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!
An example of its usage from an Alan Coren book review:
The first Proconsul of what was, in the second century BC, still Calabrium, Maximinus is chiefly remembered for his habit of throwing political opponents into Vesuvius. His proconsulate was exceptionally stormy, corrupt and inefficient, and in 134 BC, Emperor Tiberius Gracchus demoted him to the proconsulate of Sicily, where he is chiefly remembered for his habit of throwing political opponents into Etna. His significance is minimal, and my own opinion is that this dreary account is long underdue.
The book in question is a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Coren’s review is based on the title on the spine. The review is included in The Sanity Inspector, the book I tossed in the camera bag yesterday to read while waiting for the cosplay contest to begin.
Coren on the Netherlands:
… it is an interesting country, sweeping up from the coastal plain into the central massif, a two-foot high ridge of attractive silt with fabulous views of the sky, and down again into the valleys, inches below. Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers.
Consider the winners of the four categories [best novel, novella, novelette and short story] over the last five years:
• 2015: 4/4 women
• 2014: 3/4 women
• 2013: 4/4 women
• 2012: 2/4 women
• 2011: 2/4 women
Fifteen stories written by women have won the main prizes in the Nebula awards in the past five years, and five by men.
I never cared much about the Hugo awards. They have never been anything more than popularity contests, and that they have been demonstrated to be meaningless is mildly amusing and nothing more. The Nebulas, on the other hand, are determined by a vote of the SFWA membership, i.e., actual writers, and reading the annual volume of Nebula winners was one of the ways I found writers worth following many years ago. But I find it difficult to believe that nowadays women write three times as many of the best stories as men. So, the hell with the Nebulas. I think I’ll read Tim Powers instead.
Every few years I clear my evenings for a week and re-read The Lord of the Rings — I’ll probably do so again sometime this summer. I also enjoy most of his other fantasy-oriented works published during his lifetime. However, I’ve never gotten beyond page 20 in The Silmarillion. It turns out that I’m not alone, and The Silmarillion is the worst book with Tolkien’s name on it. It may be worthwhile to check out his other posthumous books, after all.
I’m rather preoccupied at the moment, but I’ll be back eventually. In the meantime, here’s a chess problem to amuse you. There is something wrong with this position. Find the problem, correct it, and then find a mate-in-one for white, no matter how you fix it. You can find solutions in the comments here.
The calendar says it’s February, but it’s May outside. I took the day off, and in a little while I’m going to go out and enjoy the weather. While I’m out, here’s some miscellaneous nonsense for you. As usual, I forget where I found most of these.
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.
Life is annoyingly busy, and I will have less time than usual for maintaining my websites until the middle of December. Expect even less activity here than usual. There might occasionally be posts of miscellaneous nonsense, such as what follows, but probably not much more.
Flickr recently introduced a “camera roll” feature that displays thumbnails of your pictures arranged either by the date taken or according to its “magic view,” which sorts them into subject-based categories. The algorithms for the latter need a little refinement.
Having time each day merely to amuse oneself, or just to sit and think, greatly improves one’s life. Yet we’re practically taught to avoid such periods – to stay as busy as possible virtually all the time. The emphasis on work, on “multitasking” (which, as a former expert in the architecture of multitasking operating systems for embedded devices, I can assure you is always an illusion) and on achieving ever more per unit time is using us up in ways we don’t always perceive and even less often appreciate. You’d almost suspect that time spent in introspection had been deemed an offense against the social norms.