Happy Halloween 2017

I’m reblogging this post I did in 2014 and 2015, modified after taking a year off in 2016.

Halloween has, for as long as I can remember, been the only holiday I’ve ever been able to take seriously or wholeheartedly to celebrate. As a nominal Muslim, I fast during Ramadan, but Ramadan isn’t really a holiday, and unfortunately, none of the Muslim holidays (the Eids) are seasonal, seasonality being an essential property of a real holiday. In fact, generally speaking, Muslims have trouble figuring out when exactly their holidays are supposed to take place–another liability of being a member of that faith.

Having spent a decade in a Jewish household, I have some affection for some of the Jewish holidays–Yom Kippur and Passover, though not Hannukah or Purim–but always with the mild alienation that accompanies the knowledge that a holiday is not one’s own: it’s hard to be inducted into a holiday tradition in your late 20s, as I was.

I like the general ambience of Christmastime, at least in the NY/NJ Metro Area, but unfortunately, once you take the Christ out of Christmas, you take much of the meaning out of it as well, Christmas without Midnight Mass being an anemic affair, and Midnight Mass without Christ being close to a contradiction in terms. Not being a Christian, I find it hard to put Christ back into Christmas, mostly because he’s not mine to put anywhere in the first place. (Same with Easter.)

Diwali I just don’t get. Continue reading

Happy Halloween 2015

I’m reblogging this post I did last year, slightly modified.

Halloween has, for as long as I can remember, been the only holiday I’ve ever been able to take seriously or wholeheartedly to celebrate. As an ex-Muslim, I have a certain affection for Ramadan, but Ramadan isn’t really a holiday, and unfortunately, none of the Muslim holidays (the Eids) are seasonal, seasonality being an essential property of a real holiday. In fact, generally speaking, Muslims have trouble figuring out when exactly their holidays are supposed to take place–another liability of being a member of that faith.

Having spent a decade in a Jewish household, I have some affection for some of the Jewish holidays–Yom Kippur and Passover, though not Hannukah or Purim–but always with the mild alienation that accompanies the knowledge that a holiday is not one’s own: it’s hard to be inducted into a holiday tradition in your late 20s, as I was.

I like the general ambience of Christmastime, at least in the NY/NJ Metro Area, but unfortunately, once you take the Christ out of Christmas, you take much of the meaning out of it as well–Christmas without Midnight Mass being an anemic affair, and Midnight Mass without Christ being close to a contradiction in terms. Not being a Christian, I find it hard to put Christ back into Christmas, mostly because he’s not mine to put anywhere in the first place. (Same with Easter.)

The secular holidays are, I’m afraid, a sorry set of excuses for holidays. I’ve trashed Columbus Day on this blog (more than once), Independence Day on another, and I endorse Christopher Hitchens’s description of New Year’s Eve as the “worst night of the year” (and U2’s description of the Day as essentially unremarkable). Thanksgiving is too damn complicated, given its connection to family, and the political holidays (Presidents’ Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day) are either too political, too contrived, and/or too somber to count as real holidays. Labor Day is a day off, not a holiday. It’s not the same thing.

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So what’s left? The purest, most innocent, most seasonally appropriate, most nostalgic, and most celebratory of all holidays, Halloween.

I’ll concede this much: El dia de los muertos, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day are perfectly respectable cousin-holidays to Halloween and fit for post-Halloween celebrations, but their value supervenes on that of Halloween; in and of themselves, they don’t quite cut it, at least for me. (Scary thought: only a philosopher could manage to use the words “supervene” and “Halloween” in the same sentence.) What all four holidays have in common is a properly autumnal and properly macabre preoccupation with mortality, which is the only point of having a holiday in the first place. The point of a holiday is to celebrate life  in the shadow of death, in the full knowledge that it’s there, lurking in the shadows and crevices of life–and in the full knowledge that though it’s there, it doesn’t matter.

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It’s a near tragic fact that Halloween itself almost went extinct. I have nostalgic memories of Halloween from childhood, but sometime in the mid-80s, Halloween’s luster was dimmed by a series of candy poisonings, razor-bladed apples, and other scares (or so we were led to believe); I distinctly remember when Halloween was cancelled–abolished, outlawed–in my town in the mid-80s. It took a long time for the holiday to recover from its de jure abolition, and  just as it seemed to have been doing so, it was cancelled two years in a row in the Metro Area for climatological reasons–for the freak snowstorm of 2011, and then for Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It made a comeback these past few years, and I’m hoping it makes a bigger one this year. All systems appear to be “go” for a comeback: Halloween falls on a Saturday this year; the weather is supposed to be perfect; and judging from the neighborhoods I’ve seen across north Jersey, everyone–infants, adults, and everyone in-between–is more than ready to celebrate.

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Every holiday has an aesthetic, and needs artwork to match. In recent times, I’d nominate Tim Burton as the Master Artist of Halloween. Going further back in time, I might award that title to Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, or Washington Irving.

Anyway, over the years I’ve been surprised to discover how many people–or at least, how many Americans between the ages of 20 and 50–have childhood  memories of listening to some version of Camille Saint-Saens’s little piece, “Danse Macabre,” around Halloween-time. I myself remember listening to a version of it playing over an animated “filmstrip” (remember those?) of dancing skeletons, care of my grade-school music teacher, Mrs. Davidson–to whom I’m eternally grateful. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a video version of the filmstrip anywhere. That said, there are lots of versions of “Danse Macabre” online; I couldn’t quite find the perfect one, but this one had the right quirkiness about it.

For a more musically satisfying version of “Danse Macabre,” check out Clara Cernat and Thierry Huillet’s version for violin and piano.

This year’s Halloween art exhibit comes from Melissa Macalpin’s “Getting Ready for Halloween.” (I can’t seem to insert the artwork directly into the post. According to Melissa (sort of), “copyright is old-fashioned,” so if I could, I would.)

This year’s metal soundtrack is King Diamond’s Abigail.

I don’t know what’s scarier–the music, or that I’m linking to it on what’s supposed to be a semi-serious, occasionally quasi-academic blog. Anyway, thanks to Vik Kapila for the suggestion.

By the way, don’t forget to vote in this crucial electoral race. Vote early and vote often, since the rules explicitly allow for it. Naturally, I cast several votes for AC/DC. I suggest you do the same. Or else.

Postscript, November 1, 2015: Well, another successful Halloween gone by. Conditions for it probably couldn’t have been better–Halloween on a bright October Saturday that turns gloomy as the day goes by, followed by an overcast All Saints’ Day falling on the Sunday when Daylight Savings Time ends.

My impressions of Halloween aren’t much changed from what they were last year: fairly large throngs of trick-or-treaters, but concentrated in very specific parts of town officially designated for the official purpose of Municipal Celebration of Halloween. Lots more adult involvement than when I was a kid; lots more adult supervision and regulation; more police involvement; strictly circumscribed hours. There’s a bit of anti-climax here: Halloween has now become six weeks of build-up toward a holiday that’s mandated to take place between the hours of 5 and 8 pm on a single evening.

Anyway, part of what makes Halloween an attractive holiday, at least in the suburbs, is the contrast it offers to the usual pathetic patterns of suburban life. Sad but true: Halloween is virtually the only night of the year when people leave the electronified comfort of their oversized homes to go out on the streets and interact with their neighbors for a few hours.

Watching the scene here in north Jersey, I couldn’t help thinking about the stark contrast with Abu Dis in Palestine, where I spent the summer: in suburban New Jersey, nightfall induces kids to retreat to the fortress-like compounds of their homes; in Palestinian towns and cities, by contrast, kids are up at all hours, playing in the streets. Both sets of kids are up, mind you; it’s just that suburban American kids are inside, in front of TV sets and video games, whereas the Palestinian kids are out and about. Meanwhile, suburban American parents treat their antiseptic neighborhoods as though they were chronically populated by witches, goblins, and werewolves. At the other extreme, Palestinian parents seem unfazed by permitting their children to play in streets riven by tear gas and gunfire.

Another unspoken but attractive secret of Halloween: In many neighborhoods, Halloween is one of the few nights on which  the de facto (and implicitly de jure) racial segregation that rules suburban life is temporarily allowed to lapse. Where I live, black kids from surrounding urban areas migrate en masse to the safety and affluence of the white suburbs, in search of better candy prospects than might be possible back home. For one night, then, crowds of black people converge on white neighborhoods without anyone’s regarding it as a threat–i.e., as a prelude to rioting or looting. In other words, #BlackLivesMatter temporarily becomes #CandyMatters. Since the two messages are in principle logically compatible with each other, everyone agrees for a night to focus on the latter, and a great time is had by all. Maybe they should introduce Halloween to Jerusalem and Hebron?

Speaking of Jerusalem and Hebron, there’s a big “debate” out there about political correctness in costumes, and the (supposed) dangers of “cultural appropriation” in costume-wearing. I’m going to save that one for next year. On a related topic, however, I couldn’t help being amused at how Islam is slowly but surely finding its way into Halloween culture. I tagged behind a group of kids last night dressed as terrorists: instead of “trick or treat,” they went door to door shouting “Allahu akbar!”  (Guilty confession: I found that pretty funny.) I also find it interesting that the newer film versions of Dracula–Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Dracula Untold (2014)–now go out of their way to depict Dracula’s turn to vampirism as a response to Ottoman Islamism, an interesting inversion of the usual grievance-based explanations for Islamic terrorism.

The Dracula-as-anti-Islamist theme is a deliberate departure from, almost an inversion of, the depiction of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel. Though Dracula’s historical precursor Vlad the Impaler fought the Ottomans, anti-Islamism plays almost no role whatsoever in Stoker’s Dracula: Stoker’s Dracula equates the “Turk” with white invaders (Wallachian, Saxon, Austro-Hungarian); meanwhile Stoker “Orientalizes” Dracula himself despite his (Dracula’s) past life (lives?) as an anti-Ottoman freedom fighter. Transylvania, Dracula tells Jonathan Harper, “was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk.”

Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders. In old days there were stirring times, when the Austrian and the Hungarian came up in hordes–men and women, the aged and children too–and waited their coming on the rocks above the passes, that they might sweep destruction on them with their artificial avalanches. When the invader was triumphant he found but little, for whatever there was had been sheltered in the friendly soil. (Bram Stoker, Dracula, p. 22).

In other words, Dracula was a rock-throwing Transylvanian nationalist ready to fight any invader who dared set foot in his lands.

Which is why Stoker gives him the physiognomic treatment reserved for Oriental nationalists:

The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years (p. 18).

Interestingly, Stoker gives a much longer description of Dracula’s physical appearance but pointedly (so to speak) omits a description of the Evil One’s eyes. All in all, Stoker’s Dracula sounds like the spitting image of Yasir Arafat. Right?

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Photo credits: Wikipedia

Right. Obviously, they’re not going to give the game away by opening their mouths.

Clearly, there are dissertations waiting to be written here: Dracula and the Ottoman OtherStok(er)ing Orientalism, (Jonathan) Ha(n)k(er)ing After British Imperialism, and so on, and my only regret is that I can’t write any of them. But obviously, some have, and more power to them. Read them, the tenure-seekers of the night. What music they make!

All right, enough: off to really scary things. Like paying the rent.

A pre-Thanksgiving expression of gratitude

I’ve always had slightly mixed feelings about Thanksgiving—it’s not like Halloween is for me—but like most denizens of the First World, I certainly have my share of things to be thankful for. I suppose that sense of gratitude excludes the students who repeatedly fail to do the reading in the classes I teach (and text while I explain the reading they haven’t done); my loud and insensitive upstairs neighbors, who keep me up with with their late night and early morning stomping and yelling; the criminals who’ve recently been filling the police blotters with their exploits in my neighborhood; and the near-death experiences I have every day (often twice a day) while driving the Garden State Parkway. But there’s plenty to be grateful for despite all that. This post consists of an enumeration of some of those things–partly to express my gratitude in a public way, partly to induce readers to reflect on similar things in their experience, and partly just to share some of the discoveries involved. Call it a pre-Thanksgiving expression of gratitude.

One of the great joys of blogging is the opportunity it affords for discovering talented, dedicated people you’d never heard of before, and might never have heard of or interacted with but for the grace of WordPress. That goes for everyone who’s contributed to this blog since its inception this summer—co-bloggers, commenters, ‘likers’, and lurkers alike. Thanks to all of you. But I particularly wanted to take a moment to mention a small handful of bloggers and websites I’ve recently discovered through ‘likes’ on PoT, which have recently become big favorites of mine.

One is Brandon Christensen’s Notes on Liberty, which I’ve come to regard as the most interesting and intelligent libertarian blog on the Internet–and for whatever it’s worth (often, alas, very little), I’ve read them all. Between the NoL folks who come here (mostly Brandon) and the PoT heads who go there (mostly me), we seem to have developed a nice synergy between NoL and PoT, and I hope that continues.

When my brain is up to it, I sometimes visit Blogistikon, “a little storehouse of thoughts, puzzles, and problems about ancient philosophy.” It’s an acquired taste, I realize: one of their latest posts is on “relativity in the Peri Ideon,” and one before that was on Aristotle’s conception of opaque and transparent relatives. Frankly, some of it would be all Greek to anyone (when it wasn’t all Latin). But I enjoy it, when I understand it.

A more accessible favorite of mine is Jackie Hadel’s Tokidoki world travel photo blog, which I discovered by means of a surprise ‘like’ by Hadel on one of my posts. (We don’t know one another at all.) The sheer number of photos on her blog is pretty staggering, but the ones of Bethlehem, Hebron, JaffaJerusalem, and Tel Aviv brought back vivid memories for me. The ones of New York struck me as fresh and interesting, despite my having lived here (well, in New Jersey) for decades, and the ones of autumn in Japan not only induced me to want to go to Japan in the autumn, but managed to evoke some nostalgia for an autumnal trip that Kate Herrick and I recently took to southwestern Vermont, of all places. (You’ll have to look at Hadel’s photos to see why.) Hadel’s travel photos make an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts with those of my cousin Jawad Zakariya, who seems to have traveled just about as widely as she has—with eyes open and camera ready for some amazing shots, from Canada to Pakistan and points in between.

Browsing at Hadel’s site, I serendipitously discovered the poems of Kate Houck, which I now make sure to visit every few days, “for the love of words and what they inspire.” And I’m grateful to my Felician College colleague Richard McGarry for my belated but soul-gratifying discovery of the poetry of Mary Oliver. This particular discovery came not through the blog, but the old-fashioned way, after Rich pinned Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” to the bulletin board of the faculty lounge, where I happened to see it.  (It’s worth mentioning, incidentally, that it’s a direct violation of Felician College policy to pin anything, poems included, to a College bulletin board without the express approval and imprimatur of the office of “Felician College Events and Conference Services.” The operative premise seems to be that college faculty can’t be trusted to communicate with one another by means of flyers or other posted material, unless their communications meet the approval of an “Events and Conference Services” administrator–whether or not the administrator can herself be trusted to understand what the communications are about. “Wild Geese,” was not, I’m afraid, an approved communication, so that in reading it, soul-gratifying or not, I was breaking the law.)

The preceding stuff is pretty ethereal, I’ll admit—political theory, ancient philosophy, travel photography, and poetry. I’m thankful for all of it, but ultimately, Thanksgiving is really about gratitude for elementally material things, like food, drink, clothing, and shelter. To that end, I thought I’d draw attention to this item on world poverty, itself brought to my attention by Kate Herrick. Here’s the abstract from a quietly mind-blowing 2009 working paper by Maxim Pinkovskiy and Xavier Sala-I-Martin, “Parametric Estimations of the World Distribution of Income,” recently discussed at the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

We use a parametric method to estimate the income distribution for 191 countries between 1970 and 2006. We estimate the World Distribution of Income and estimate poverty rates, poverty counts and various measures of income inequality and welfare. Using the official $1/day line, we estimate that world poverty rates have fallen by 80% from 0.268 in 1970 to 0.054 in 2006. The corresponding total number of poor has fallen from 403 million in 1970 to 152 million in 2006. Our estimates of the global poverty count in 2006 are much smaller than found by other researchers. We also find similar reductions in poverty if we use other poverty lines. We find that various measures of global inequality have declined substantially and measures of global welfare increased by somewhere between 128% and 145%. We analyze poverty in various regions. Finally, we show that our results are robust to a battery of sensitivity tests involving functional forms, data sources for the largest countries, methods of interpolating and extrapolating missing data, and dealing with survey misreporting.

I don’t have the expertise to interpret their findings in any systematic or sophisticated way, and I realize that $1/day is a dismally low baseline. But an 80% reduction in world poverty rates over a 36 year period cries out for acknowledgement and gratitude, as well as for causal explanation and indefinite iteration.  It’s debatable whether the cause of the amelioration is capitalism, globalization, or whatever, but the point is, whatever the cause, it can’t be chance. And that by itself is something to be thankful for, even if we still have a long way to go before everyone has in the way of material resources what a small minority of us can be thankful for having.

One last item, simultaneously from the world of spirit and of matter. For fourteen years now, my dear friend Carol Welsh has been fighting a recurrent brain (and now spinal) tumor called an “ependymoma.” She tells her story at her website, “Adult Ependymoma: A Patient’s Story.” That story has so far included “three brain surgeries, one gamma knife radiosurgery, a placement of a shunt, a course of radiation and oral chemotherapy called Temodar,” along with spinal surgery and a diagnosis of breast cancer. In the fourteen years that Carol has fought this disease—or these diseases, however one counts them–I honestly have not been able to grasp how a human being could endure such undeserved punishment and not only survive, but do so with Carol’s grace and equanimity. She is, as far as I’m concerned, the single most awe-inspiring paradigm of the virtue of courage I have ever known.

Among the many lessons I’ve learned from her, one philosophically interesting one is worth mentioning. We inherit a bias, largely I think from Aristotle, of conceiving of the virtue of courage in fundamentally masculine and militaristic terms. Aristotle tells us in Nicomachean Ethics III.6 that since death on the battlefield is the paradigm of courage, it is “wrong to fear poverty or sickness”; the capacity to face such fears is a mere analogue of courage, not the real thing. Carol single-handedly convinced me–by example rather than argument–of the anachronism and error of Aristotle’s account. It seems to me that William James was right, by contrast, to suggest the need for conceiving of moral equivalents to war, and by implication moral equivalents to the virtues valorized by war.

The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade.

Having known Carol since college days, I’d say that Carol has for fourteen years exemplified the “better substitute” that James was wondering about. I’m thankful for the privilege of knowing someone with her courage.

Happy Thanksgiving Day, about a week and a half early.

Postscript, December 16, 2014: The Wall Street Journal story about world poverty made it to The New York Times the other day, describing it as “excellent news,” but burying it on the eighth page of the Sunday Business section. “[T]here is agreement,” the Times says, “that extreme poverty has been on the decline since the mid-1990s and that the decline has accelerated since 2000.” It then asks the obvious question: “What’s behind the shift?” But its answer is utterly uninformative:

Rising incomes in India and China are a major factor. Together, those two countries lifted 232 million people out of extreme poverty from 2008 to 2011 alone, according to one World Bank analysis.

OK, but why did incomes rise in India and China? Surely there’s a story there that deserves more comprehensive treatment than it’s gotten. On the face of it, it seems to me that libertarians have a better story to tell here than left-leaning liberals do. Liberals and leftists either need to tell a better story, or concede that libertarians have this part of the story right, and find a way of accommodating libertarian insights coherently within their conception of the economic world.

Happy Halloween

Halloween has, for as long as I can remember, been the only holiday I’ve ever been able to take seriously or wholeheartedly to celebrate. As an ex-Muslim, I have a certain affection for Ramadan, but Ramadan isn’t really a holiday, and unfortunately, none of the Muslim holidays (the Eids) are seasonal, seasonality being an essential property of a real holiday. (In fact, generally speaking, Muslims have trouble figuring out when exactly their holidays are supposed to take place–another liability of being a member of that faith.) Having spent a decade in a Jewish household, I have some affection for some of the Jewish holidays–Yom Kippur and Passover, though not Hannukah or Purim–but always with the mild alienation that accompanies the knowledge that a holiday is not one’s own: it’s hard to be inducted into a holiday tradition in your late 20s, as I was. I like the general ambience of Christmastime, at least in the NY/NJ Metro Area, but unfortunately, once you take the Christ out of Christmas, you take much of the meaning out of it as well–Christmas without Midnight Mass being an anemic affair, and Midnight Mass without Christ being close to a contradiction in terms. Not being a Christian, I find it hard to put Christ back into Christmas, mostly because I have trouble putting him anywhere at all.

The secular holidays are, I’m afraid, a sorry set of excuses for holidays. I’ve trashed Columbus Day on this blog, Independence Day on another, and I endorse Christopher Hitchens’s description of New Year’s Eve as the “worst night of the year” (and U2’s description of the Day as essentially unremarkable). Thanksgiving is too damn complicated, given its connection to family, and the political holidays (Presidents’ Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day) are either too political, too contrived, and/or too somber to count as real holidays. Labor Day is a day off, not a holiday. It’s not the same thing.

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So what’s left? The purest, most innocent, most seasonally appropriate, most nostalgic, and most celebratory of all holidays, Halloween. I’ll concede this much: El dia de los muertos, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day are all perfectly respectable cousin-holidays to Halloween and fit for post-Halloween celebrations, but their value supervenes on that of Halloween; in and of themselves, they don’t quite cut it, at least for me. (Scary thought: only a philosopher could manage to use the words “supervene” and “Halloween” in the same sentence.) What all four holidays have in common is a properly autumnal and properly macabre preoccupation with mortality, which is the only point of having a holiday in the first place. The point of a holiday is to celebrate life  in the shadow of death–in the full knowledge that it’s there, lurking in the shadows and crevices of life, and in the full knowledge that though it’s there, we could care less.

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It’s a near tragic fact that Halloween itself almost went extinct. I have nostalgic memories of Halloween from childhood, but sometime in the mid-80s, Halloween’s luster was dimmed by a series of candy poisonings, razor-bladed apples, and other scares (or so we were led to believe); I distinctly remember when Halloween was cancelled–abolished, outlawed–in my town in the mid-80s. It took a long time for the holiday to recover from its de jure abolition, and  just as it seemed to have been doing so, it was cancelled two years in a row in the Metro Area for climatological reasons–for the freak snowstorm of 2011, and then for Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It made a comeback last year, and I’m hoping it makes a bigger one this year. All systems appear to be “go” for a comeback: Halloween falls on a Friday this year; the weather is supposed to be perfect; and judging from the neighborhoods I’ve seen across north Jersey, everyone–infants, adults, and everyone in-between–is more than ready to celebrate.

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Every holiday has an aesthetic, and needs artwork to match. In recent times, I’d nominate Tim Burton as the Master Artist of Halloween. Going further back in time, I might award that title to Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, or Washington Irving. (I know, I know: Poe or Hawthorne should be in there, but they do less for me. Feel free to come up with your own nominations and leave them in the comments.) Anyway, over the years I’ve been surprised to discover how many people–or at least, how many Americans between the ages of 20 and 50–have childhood  memories of listening to some version of Camille Saint-Saens’s little piece, “Danse Macabre,” around Halloween-time. I myself remember listening to a version of it playing over an animated “filmstrip” (remember those?) of dancing skeletons, care of my grade-school music teacher, Mrs. Davidson–to whom I’m eternally grateful. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a video version of the filmstrip anywhere. That said, there are lots of versions of “Danse Macabre” online; I couldn’t quite find the perfect one, but this one had the right quirkiness about it. Enjoy.

P.S., For a more musically satisfying version of “Danse Macabre,” check out Clara Cernat and Thierry Huillet’s version for violin and piano, just a click away once the preceding clip finishes.

P.S., October 31, 2014: Here’s an amusing piece from the Times’s “Friday Files,” on Halloween celebrations from back in the day–1895, 1914, and 1926.

P.S., November 1, 2014: Well, Halloween certainly made a comeback in my area. Here’s a link to a local news story about the house featured in my header (which I’ll keep up for the rest of the weekend). You probably don’t want to miss this extremely frightening 38 second video:

It does seem to me that the general character of Halloween has changed since my day (the 70s and 80s) to accommodate the helicopter-parent/over-regulatory/risk-averse sensibilities of the modern age. Carrie-Ann Biondi points out to me that in most north Jersey towns, Halloween has now, by municipal fiat, been ordered to take place between the hours of 6 pm and 8 pm. So if you trick-or-treat before 6 or after 8, you’re breaking the law. And true to form, around 7:45, the po-po came by to clear everyone off the streets. There was a huge, festive block party in one of the decorated neighborhoods of Glen Ridge–the crowd there was in the hundreds–but most of the other streets were empty. So the trend is now toward adult-“organized” partying rather than the old undirected play of yore. I suppose that adult-organized is safer–and as with anything with the word “adult” in it, certainly has more sex appeal–than old-fashioned trick-or-treating, but it does seem to me that something’s been lost.

I can’t end this rant without saying that our municipalities need some push-back as far as their over-regulation of ordinary life is concerned. Libertarians and others spend a lot of time complaining about the over-reaching powers of the federal government, but the truth is that municipalities need to be curtailed as much as any other branch of our over-zealous government. There doesn’t seem to be any aspect of life immune to the paternalism of municipal ordinance (and lots of ordinary life that needs more regulation than it gets). Maybe that’s an argument for spending less time on blogs and more in town council meetings, pushing back on the people in Town Hall who perpetually seem to want to push the rest of us a bit too far.

Incidentally, Kate Herrick points out to me that my anti-non-Halloween rant missed Easter–true enough–about which I’d say more or less what I said about Christmas.

One last PS: Some examples of the paternalism I mentioned before, care of Carrie-Ann Biondi:

1. Seven weird laws regulating Halloween from various places.

2.  Snowhill, Maryland reserves the right to re-schedule Halloween at will, and prohibits masks for anyone over the age of 12.

3. More age limits.

4. Yet another curfew, from Fishkill, New York.

I try to keep the language clean here at PoT, but honestly, these laws seem pretty fucked up to me.

Respondeo:

Refuse! Resist!