Thursday, December 25, 2008

'Ere he drove out of sight

Ad infinitum, perhaps ad nauseum for some folks, it's time for my annual Christmas posting. My two favorite Christmas stories have been a tad overly-mythologized and romanticized, but are rooted nonetheless in actual events.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
, the 1897 editorial in the New York Sun remains one of my favorite essays. It's a succinctly and beautifully written note about cynicism and faith, and I've re-posted it here.

The other favorite is the Christmas Truce of 1914. There's one good first-person account here that's taken from various seminal books on the Great War. (Also, there's a song called "Christmas in the Trenches" that I used to listen to in middle school. Yeah, I was a weird teenager.)

Happy holidays!
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O'HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Against a pearl-gray sky

As 8" of snow piled up outside and the neffy crawled happily around the Christmas tree, I settled down to read The Oxford Murders. I love a good mystery, and this one was good. Because it involved mathematics and symbols and mentioned a secret society, I feared that it might be some weird Da Vinci Code rip-off; luckily, it wasn't.

An Argentinian graduate student at Oxford (we never learn the narrator's name) becomes involved in solving a series of mathematics-related murders: the murderer leaves a note and a symbol before every death, in a cat-and-mouse game with a math professor.

Sadly, if I can figure out the explanation for a mysterious series of symbols tied to murders, the symbols aren't that difficult. Just sayin'. What was more interesting were the tangential monologues about cause and effect and alternate possibilities in both ethics and mathematics. I guessed half of it, so it's obvious the answers themselves weren't the key -- the proofs were. Ho, ho, little math joke there...

In the end, without giving anything away, the plot and its resolution were just one big mind game. Definitely enjoyable!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Yipes

Frightening tale. At least no one was seriously hurt:
Students were screaming as bus crashed through barrier (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
(Photo: Seattle P-I)

A couple of charter buses with dozens of people aboard slid down ... snow-covered cobblestones ... and crashed into each other Friday morning, crashing through a guardrail... 20 to 30 feet above Interstate 5.

(Rainster's note: Basically, to the left of the photo is a very, very steep hill. I used to live a few blocks away. Meanwhile, a similarly steep hill near La Madre's house has been blocked off by police since the day before it snowed.)
Last Sunday, I was on a bus (public transportation, unlike these ones) that did the same thing, though in a different part of the city. (And the county has since put chains on all the buses.) We slid backwards, though, and hit the guardrail but didn't go through it. I walked two miles before my bro-in-law picked me up.

Still, safety concerns aside, I lovelovelove snow.

No matter how far away you roam

Ah, vacation! Leaving your winter gear in Boston, safe in the belief that the weather at home will be in the typical December 40s, with gray skies and drizzle.

One again, the universe reveals its sense of irony. Seattle is currently bracing for Round 3 of a mega-snowstorm. And the mere threat of snow is enough to paralyze the city...

But so far it's been jolly, filled with family and friends.

For starters, the Jeopardy Champ went and got herself formally and very publicly engaged at the karaoke bar where she met her fiance. She suspected it was coming, but the devil was in the details: an unusually packed karaoke night (word had spread), champagne, and cake. It's on youtube, actually ... while The Agent is proposing, I was up at the bar with the bride's roommate, Ms. Tungsten, another friend, and the bar staff, preparing the champagne and cake. The Scot managed to get a good view up front.

Then, a few days ago I met up with an old friend from middle school. We recognized each other at a Get-Out-the-Vote Halloween event, even in our costumes (I was Zorro, complete with mask, and she was a chicken, complete with beak. Bizarre.) At any rate, it's always good to catch up over whisky and rum.

Good times.

And, appropriately, I read Book 2 in the Artemis Fowl series: Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident. After trying to play in the snow like I haven't done since I was a kid and catching a slightly cold, I figured reading a children's series was entirely apropos. In this one, the teenage evil mastermind tries to rescue his father from Russian kidnappers, and the fairy and elf world agrees to help him in exchange for his help in stopping a goblin coup.

Fun, especially on a snowy day!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Razzle dazzle 'em

While not writing my last policy paper of the semester, Ms. Tungsten posted this on the FB:



I stand amazed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Still the same old story

Just when I started the Intellectual Property law class, my procrastination reading material turns out to be all about intellectual property. (I interpret this as The Goddess telling me it's okay not to do the readings for tomorrow's class just yet...)

Continuing my Connie Willis vein, Remake was a typical and short Willis story. The premise: Hollywood has stopped making movies and just recycles and remakes all of its old ones, using the digital (and copyrighted) images of actors and props and sets. The main character is a guy who remakes movies for studio bosses. There's a girl who wants to dance like Fred Astaire and be in the movies. There's also a fascinating subplot about censorship: part of remaking the old movies is scrubbing them clean of alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs. Bottles of booze are replaced by teacups or glasses of lemonade, and entire plots have to be rewritten if they involve drunkenness or addictive substances.
Casablanca is the film our hero, who struggles with his own drug and alcohol addictions, struggles to remake. Hint, hint.

In all, it was a quick read. Not one of Willis' best, and honestly, not that engaging. But I was really drawn to the concepts of the nature of escapism, the illusion of the movies, and revising past cultural products to fit changing realities. Also, the book reminded me a bit of Lincoln's Dreams, a Willis book I read earlier this year, in that the male main characters are tragically obsessed with kind but afflicted women, and the endings to both sort of fade to black sans resolution. Like many of Willis' other stories, this one also mentioned time travel, but didn't completely explore that possibility, much like Lincoln's Dreams strongly hinted at dream travel but didn't take the full plunge.

And now, I think I'll avoid having to read up on trade secret laws by reorganizing my Thanksgiving photos of La Ping├╝inita.

The more things change, the more they . . .