Who’s really in charge…

From the NYT corrections page (emphasis mine):

A front-page article last Tuesday about foreign governments’ security concerns regarding satellite photography available through Google referred imprecisely to security measures applied to some of the imagery. Although images of the White House and its environs are now clear in the Google Earth database, the view of the vice president’s residence in Washington remains obscured. (Go to Article)

Free Audiobook of A Christmas Carol

In case you can’t afford to rent Terri to sit in your passenger seat and read A Christmas Carol to you during long drives home for the holidays, The Penguin Podcast is offering mp3 downloads of A Christmas Carol, for a limited time.

By the way, what softened my hard line against Dickens (developed during Great Expectations in 9th grade) was reading Straight Man by Richard Russo (coincidentally, also read aloud by Terri in the car during a long trip). We wear the chains we forge in life….

And this will be the last post on A Christmas Carol, I promise.

“Scrooge refuses to behave according to the rules of literary taste – and that’s part of his appeal.”

There’s more good stuff in this Michael Faber essay on A Christmas Carol than I can quote here, but here’s a sample.

Modern readers, who may associate Christmas with adherence to long-established, commercialised rituals, may find this emphasis on adventure and caprice a bit overdone. But we need to understand that at the time when A Christmas Carol was published, Christmas had not yet succumbed to the formulas that rule it today. Presents were often home-made, decorations were improvised. Shop-bought Christmas cards had only just been invented and would not become common until the 1880s. Queen Victoria’s husband Albert tried to introduce the Christmas tree (“that pretty German toy”, as Dickens calls it in an 1850 essay), but the idea was slow to catch on. A strange new American import – the turkey – was muscling in on the traditional goose. Santa Claus did not yet exist (he has a complicated derivation, in part from A Christmas Carol’s Ghost of Christmas Present). Basically, the early Victorians were unsure how a rural festival like Yuletide could be celebrated by busy city-folk in the industrial age – and Dickens took it upon himself to tell them.

[via Bookslut]

Christmas, 2005

Well, good evening. It’s been a long day, but I just thought I’d wish all my few regular readers a Merry Christmas.

I’ve been up since seven or so, when Kim poked her head into “our” room here at the Wise residence (Terri’s old room) to let us know that it was Christmas. I’m all for waking up early on Christmas, but by the luck of the ol’ REM cycles, I was in a state where I was not quite awake yet not quite able to go back to sleep. So I spent most of the gift-opening ritual in kind of a funk, but I made out like a Yuletide bandit, and got to spend lots of quality time cuddling with new niece #1, Kim and Glenn’s baby, Hope. Almost all of my presents for Terri this year were off the official list, so I was happy to see that they all seemed to go over well (the big ones included a Crumpler photography bag, and a Holga “toy” medium format camera). My take for the day included lots of cool gadgets for the new powerbook (remote control, iskin, and keyboard), lots of new reading listening and viewing material, a network adapter gizmo for the new tivo, lots of coffee gear (including a Kingdom of Loathing coffee pixie mug which I asked for in honor of my familiar, Yrgacheffe), tickets to three upcoming A.R.T. shows (cool!), and much much more!

This was also Terri’s mom’s year to host Christmas Day festivities for her side of the family, so all her aunts and uncles and cousins came over for dinner and further gift exchange, and it was great to catch up with everybody. The “meaty” empanaditas I made from a recipe in one of Terri’s Vegetarian Times magazines were a hit, sneaking some Boca ground on some [fellow] carnivores. I got to spend some time talking shop with Uncle Larry who used to run a printing business; he did mostly offset and not letterpress, but he apparently did have a linotype, which is a really cool beast of a machine which had sort of a typewriter keyboard, but instead of typing letters onto paper, it actually cast type from molten lead, to be fed into a letterpress.

Pictures soon!

Feed your reader

With all this wonderful free time I have had the past few days, I’m actually all caught up in my online reading, and am actually looking for new blogs and whatnot to add to my feed reader. So wouldn’t it be nice if the RSS autodiscovery feature in Firefox could be made to work with Net News Wire instead of the well-intentioned-but-basically-useless “live bookmarks” feature? Well, the Feed Your Reader extension is just the trick.

A Christmas Carol: worth a fresh look

So, I love Christmas. I really do. But one of my heresies is that I also love it when people hate Christmas, partly because it’s a purgative to all the parts of Christmas I don’t like (the list currently includes inflatable lawn ornaments, Celine Dion Christmas albums (or the like), LED reindeer antlers, the often suffocating omnipresence, and all the false pressures of things you think you have to do). So, yes, like most Christmas movies and TV specials, I subscribe to the idea that there is a Real Christmas and a Fake Christmas. I have my own line dividing the two, and I try to be tolerant, understanding that others have drawn different lines as may be dictated by religion or other matters of taste.

So, in the quest for a more real Christmas, a few years ago Terri and I bought an elaborately printed and annotated edition of A Christmas Carol. After years of seeing it recycled through innumerable film versions and sitcom plots, I wanted to actually read the real deal. I recommend actually reading it.

Scrooge is a Dickensian caricature of a skinflint. In film, it’s hard to make someone a caricature while keeping his point of view. In prose, this is possible; you can be right inside his heart and mind, even when he’s being a cantankerous miser. In film, when you are taken back in time to Scrooge’s former self, you do get the idea that he grew colder and harder very gradually over the years, without even noticing it. In prose, without an actor’s face in the way, you aren’t seeing this as something that happened to someone else. It encourages you to ask yourself, is the same thing happening to me?

Yes, there are a lot of things in it which make me wince (Tiny Tim, the precious tone of the first several paragraphs, and so on). But there’s more that I’m impressed with, like how well-realized the ghosts are, and the fact that there are ghosts (and nobody complains about Dickens slumming it with genre fiction).

And finally, I must come clean: the whole reason I wrote this was just to quote this little exchange (found here), which pretty much sums up why I love Christmas, and for that matter, pretty much all holidays.

“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.

“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Happy December 21

Here it is, just four days before Christmas, and not one holiday post this year!

Let’s start with a re-cap of some of my favorites from last year.

And some new ones for this year.

First, this Slate piece gives some historical perspective to this whole anti-Happy-Holidays pro-Merry-Christmas “War on Chrismas” meme. Kids, I gotta say, no lie, I just love what our friends at Fox cooked up this year! Not only is the idea the Christmas is under attack so hilariously and demonstrably false, but, as has been my observation, and as the Slate piece points out, it’s the hardcore fundamentalists who have historically had issues with Christmas. You know, people who have problems with celebrations in general, or back-to-the-bible purists who don’t see any commandment like “Thou Shalt Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly, for such greens are pleasing to The Lord.” The Slate piece doesn’t delve too deeply into modern fundamentalism, but one incident from about 20 years ago in my own past is one of a fundamentalista substitute school teacher back at my old school district who told a class of kindergartners that there was no Santa Claus, to do her bit to throw some water on the fires of paganism. (I assure you, she won no converts among the parents of the tearful children). So, anyway, really, while the whole spirit of the “War on Christmas” is ugly, the silver lining is that if this is the “front” of the culture war, it means that secularism and paganism have pushed back the front without even fighting a battle.

Second, A Christmas Story, in 30 seconds, performed by bunnies.

Harold Bloom loves chili

Who knew?

The aesthetic value of fine chili, however, is not a debatable thing. It is an actuality. The making and judgment of chili is an old art, and history, in my so-called outmoded view, has proved that social energies cannot invent good chili. It is a matter of the individual cook, a genius whose powers of invention cannot be matched by the gratuitous addition of hoisin sauce or curry powders in the name of misguided multiculturalism. Chili is part of the American Past, and while it is true that chili has served myriad social and political purposes of expansionist powers, its generous championing by certain advantaged parties does not diminish its aesthetical value.

I’d be laughing out loud, except that I’m supposed to be making icing, and Terri would hear that I’m slacking.