Robert Benchley on not-so-Dickensian Christmas afternoons:
In the meantime, we must not forget the children. No one else could. Aunt Libbie said that she didn’t think there was anything like children to make a Christmas; to which Uncle Ray, the one with the Masonic fob, said, “No, thank God.” Although Christmas is supposed to be the season of good cheer, you (or I, for that matter) couldn’t have told, from listening to the little ones, but that it was the children’s Armageddon season, when Nature had decreed that only the fittest should survive, in order that the race might be carried on by the strongest, the most predatory and those possessing the best protective coloring.
Max Beerbohm1 wrote an entire book of parodic Christmas pieces in A Christmas Garland. If you have trouble telling Ch*st*rt*n from B*ll*c, this might help. (There’s an interesting dicussion of Beerbohm here, though it suffers from Too Much Information.)
There’s a discussion of Christmas science fiction here.
Dear [Beautiful but Evil Space Princess],
Every time I capture the hero, I get this overwhelming urge to spill the entire plan, including the way out. How can I stop myself from giving it all away?
Evil Underlord who can’t quite make the big leagues
Oh, Sweetie. This is a compulsion written into you by the author. You must use aversion therapy. Have one of your underlings dress up as the hero, and when you start spilling things, force yourself to do something really distasteful. I don’t know, pet a puppy or give sweets to children or something, until you break the compulsion.
It’s all right. If you manage to cure yourself, you can blend the puppies into a nice smoothie afterwards and it will make you feel much better.
I’m not a professional political scientist or sociologist. Then again, neither were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and that crowd ….
The election of Trump is, in many senses, stupid. However, it is far, far wiser and more in keeping with the idea that we, the people, are the defenders of the Republic to elect Trump than to elect someone who is beloved of Harvard. On the scale of errors one can make in a Republic, electing an arrogant and impulsive side-show barker is far to be prefered to electing someone whose fundamental goal is making elections irrelevant.
… humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup.
I’ll never forget when John Updike reviewed a book on how FDR’s policies lengthened the Great Depression. Updike basically said that because FDR cared, and was trying, that was worth more than shortening the Depression.
One food arena where the US used to be the best in the world and is now near the bottom of the pack is cider (i.e. alcoholic fermented cider.)
Back in the Revolutionary War era cider was the #1 drink in the nation, far surpassing beer or wine or hard liquor. And people had planted the right kind of apple trees all over the country (as it existed then), so there was always a big supply of the raw material.
In fact, Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around planting edible apple trees — he went around planting cider apple trees! A detail that is now lost to most people’s imaginations of history.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “there’s a difference between edible apples and cider apples?”
Yes indeed. There are three fundamental “types” of apples:
“Sweet apples,” which is what we now think of simply as “apples” — the big crunchy sweet kind that you can eat.
“Sour apples,” now mostly known as “crabapples,” which are mostly useless except for making things with their pectin.
“Bitter apples,” now mostly unknown in the US, but still planted widely in France and England. THESE are the apples you are supposed to make true cider out of. As the name implies, they’re slightly too bitter to eat, but their chemical makeup is absolutely perfect for fermenting a delicious kind of apple cider, a process during which the bitterness goes away.
If you’ve ever tasted true cider made from bitter apples (which is what they serve you in Somerset and Normandy), you’ll know that cider made from sweet apples is atrocious by comparison.
And that’s the tragic part of our story.
Because of the arrival of so many German and Bohemian and Polish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century in the US, beer started to surpass cider in popularity nationwide, and then when Prohibition hit, cider production was stopped entirely. And what happened was that ALL — or almost all — the bitter apple trees in the United States were left to die or were torn out and make room for more useful trees.
So that by the time Prohibition ended, there was no longer any way to make true cider in any quantity, and as a result beer took over the casual drinking market almost 100%. Wine only started to make inroads in the ’60s and ’70s. But cider remain completely forgotten by then.
That is until about 8 years ago, when the “small batch cider” renaissance started in the US, with small startups making cider from apples.
Sweet apples, that is — because that’s all that we have in the US anymore! Yuck!
Cider made from sweet apples is just wrong to a true cider aficionado. So no matter how much effort these America cider microbreweries put into their product, it will never match up to French and British ciders.
In fact, until just a couple years ago, most American cidermakers didn’t even know about the existence of bitter apples and didn’t know they were doing it fundamentally wrong.
Finally a few people have wised up, and they’ve started planting bitter apple trees in the US again, but it will still be several years before they are up and producing in sufficient numbers to create enough true cider for the masses.
Until then, we must suffer with an inferior American product! Frowney face!
I felt like re-reading Cordwainer Smith’s “Western Science Is So Wonderful,” the tale of a local Chinese demon with strong pro-Communist sentiments who wants to study engineering. Rather than climb the stairs to the main library, I found it online here. Smith wrote science fiction on a grand scale, but he could do comedy, too.
The first episode of Miss Bernard Said. mentioned Yasutaka Tsutsui, and I checked to see if any more of his books have been translated into English. A quick search showed nothing new. However, I did find translations of a few of his stories online:
1. Who of the following were awarded the Nobel prize for literature?
Jorge Luis Borges
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ursula K. Le Guin
Robert Allen Zimmerman (a.k.a. “Elston Gunn”)
2. What does the Nobel prize for literature signify?
Here a few pictures from one of the ballets performed at last night’s rehearsal at Friends University. The dancers put their telephones aside for the other pieces. I took about 100 gigabytes of photos altogether (including raws), which will take some time to go through. Click to embiggen.
Agatha Christie apparently liked Muriel Spark a lot, and one similarity I noticed–which goes along with the novel’s arch, judicious tone–is that both novelists paint human nature in shades of folly and wickedness. Those old-fashioned words (a Christie character in The Pale Horse explicitly points out how nobody calls things “wicked” anymore) have found no adequate modern replacement. Folly, in particular, is a category we have a hard time naming. Christie generally portrays even her characters who do great and lasting harm–the instigator/victim in The Mirror Crack’d, for example–as extremes of a trajectory the best among us follow now and then. Folly can destroy a life; folly is an inevitable tint in every human action. Folly is ridiculous and deadly, and normal.
… often an artist’s storytelling capabilities exceed their own philosophical limitations and wind up being more universal than their idiosyncrasies. A good story tends to to be more universal than its philosophical scaffolding, which is why I don’t need to, say, find the political and social views of Asimov or Le Guin particularly toothsome to nevertheless find their works deeply meaningful for me.
… one of the beauties of our system of government, of how the rights we have are protected: we are free to disagree with the government. That robust and strong systems are able to tolerate dissent. And by extension, I suppose, the weak and insecure ones are those that work to quash it.
I thought of this ancient E.B. White story the other day and found it online:
Along about 1920 it became apparent that more things were being written than people had time to read. That is to say, even if a man spent his entire time reading stories, articles, and news, as they appeared in books, magazines, and pamphlets, he fell behind. This was no fault of the reading public; on the contrary, readers made a real effort to keep pace with writers, and utilized every spare moment during their walking hours. They read while shaving in the morning and while waiting for trains and while riding on trains. They came to be a kind of tacit agreement among numbers of the reading public that when one person laid down the baton, someone else must pick it up; and so when a customer entered a barbershop, the barber would lay aside the Boston Evening Globe and the customer would pick up Judge; or when a customer appeared in a shoe-shining parlor, the bootblack would put away the racing form and the customer would open his briefcase and pull out The Sheik. So there was always somebody reading something. Motormen of trolley cars read while they waited on the switch. Errand boys read while walking from the corner of Thirty-ninth and Madison to the corner of Twenty-fifth and Broadway. Subway riders read constantly, even when they were in a crushed, upright position in which nobody could read his own paper but everyone could look over the next man’s shoulder. People passing newsstands would pause for a second to read headlines. Men in the back seats of limousines, northbound on Lafayette Street in the evening, switched on tiny dome lights and read the Wall Street Journal. Women in semi-detached houses joined circulating libraries and read Vachel Lindsay while the baby was taking his nap.
… and now for something less depressing. Here are some lines and fragments from various poems that occasionally pop into my mind. See if you can identify the poets and poems. I’ll post the answers tomorrow.
1. Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat!
2. No. Not this pig.
3. … yuck-a, yuck-a, yuck-a, yuck-a …
4. I have awakened at Missoula, Montana, utterly happy.
5. … boxcars boxcars boxcars …
6. May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”
8. What I tell you three times is true.
N.B.: The spoiler system for this website apparently doesn’t work for comments. Don’t read the comments until you’ve made your own guesses.
In reverse, we could play with the idea of what would have happened in WW II if it had followed the lines of LotR…
The plot would focus on the destruction of the Atom Bomb (and implicitly all knowledge required to make it) by a small team of English patriots led by George Orwell, who infiltrate Germany and destroy the evil research establishment which is making the A-bomb.
The climactic end would be the death of Hitler (as the ready-for-use prototype explodes?) and the end of the Nazi regime in Germany with the return of the Holy Roman Emperor.
Silo Syndrome is one of the natural consequences of the sense that things are sliding down the slippery slope to Shitville, and there’s nothing one can do about it. The sense might be illusory, of course, but the consequences of it are nevertheless compelling.
The countermeasure is laughter, however administered or evoked. Jokes. Puns. Harmless pranks. General horseplay. Frivolity. Cat videos. The zany impulse indulged in an unguarded moment. Laughter might not be able to cure cancer, but it can make the chemotherapy a bit easier to endure.
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.”
The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
Years ago I attended a performance of a John Cage piece. The musicians sat on the stage in black turtlenecks while making gurgling noises with conch shells and water to the accompaniment of a recording of pine cones burning. After 20 minutes, one of the performers stood up and blew on his conch for five minutes, at the end of which his face was purple. I’ve also sampled recordings of Cage’s prepared piano music; the sonorities are novel, but the music itself is hard to pay attention to for more than a minute or two. Cage himself was probably aware that his music would not be universally appreciated, which is perhaps why he insisted that auditoriums where his music was performed have easily accessible exits.
Cage—most famous for his 1952 composition 4’33”, in which musicians sit in perfect silence for four minutes and 33 seconds—was a gut anarchist. Asked about the word ecology, the composer replied that whenever he heard that seductive word he knew he’d soon hear the word planning, and “when I hear that word, I run in the other direction.” He boasted that he never voted.
While going through my archives, I came across an egregious example of cultural appropriation, recorded several years ago at a performance by a local ballet troupe. Be sure you’re sitting down before you view the horror, lest the shock stagger you.
Eye protection advised
Unsurprisingly, a search online for “peter pan cultural appropriation” turns up many exposés and testimonies, from The Smithsonian on down.
It’s not just Native Americans who are victimized in Peter Pan. Pirate culture is treated without utterly without respect. An otherkin is labeled a “fairy” and reduced to an object of moe. This toxic tale in its various forms has warped the sensibilities of innumerable impressionable children for generations.