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From Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers

(stolen from a blog post from last year at Mange Merde)

And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas
brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families, whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual goodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight; and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilised nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future condition of existence, provided for the blessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!

Cheryl and I watched Love Actually again last night. It’s a winsome movie, perfect for this time of the year. My parents got here today. They’re exhausted and temporarily without luggage, but glad to be here, glad to see Violet.

Cheryl made a wonderful bacon-mushroom quiche and I helped out with a delicious roasted-potato-and-mustard-vinaigrette salad. Dessert was molasses spice cookies and tea.

All are sleeping and snoring around me. It’s a lovely night.

ARTIST: Dar Williams
TITLE: The Christians and the Pagans
(from Gunther Anderson)

Amber called her uncle, said “We’re up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay”
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, “It’s Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style”
She said, “Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it’s been awhile”

/ G C Am D / / Em C Am D / / G C Am D / /

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

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From the excellent, comprehensive, and highly recommend Oxford Companion to Food

COOKIE the name used in N. America for a small, flat, sweet confection, which approximates to a sweet BISCUIT as eaten in England, although cookies tend to be richer and have a softer, chewy texture. The name first appeared in print as long ago as 1703.

Generations of immigrants from all over Europe have contributed to the American tradition of cookies. Early Dutch settlers introduced their recipes for various types of koekje, Dutch for “little cake” (see BANKETBAKKERI), the name which needed only slight adaptation to become cookie. English, Scandinavian, German, and E. European settlers introduced numerous types of biscuit, including many which could be classed as cookies, and maintained their connection with feast days. Cookies were originally associated, in the USA, with New Year’s Day; references cited by Craigie and Hulbert (1938) from the early part of the 19th century show that cookies and cherry bounce (a cherry cordial) were the correct fare with which to greet visitors on that occasion, although already threatened “by plum-cake and outlandish liqueurs”, as one author put it. Read the rest of this entry »

From Chapter 17 – Celebration Days in
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Snow fell on our garden in December, leaving the dried corn stalks and withered tomato vines standing black on white like a pen-and-ink drawing titled Rest. I postponed looking at seed catalogs for awhile. Those of us who give body and soul to projects that never seem to end–child rearing, housecleaning, gardening–know the value of the occasional closed door. We need our moments of declared truce.

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In the Bleak Midwinter
by Christina Rosetti

(from hymns and carols of Christmas)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

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I just had a few thoughts in the shower this morning and wanted to elaborate on my reinterpretation of the concept of sin. As I interpret sin, the idea of “original sin” and the “fallen state of man” have radically different interpretations, in that they become almost tautological. This is to say that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” is literally equivalent to the statement “Nobody’s perfect.” The denotation is pretty similar (although I don’t believe in the existence of the divine except insofar as it represents an humanly constructed ideal to which we all strive), but the connotation is incredibly different.

In particular, human conscience is fundamentally correct, but limited by our human fallibility. That human fallibility is the source of our essential triumphs, our ability to appreciate our brief existence for its scarcity, and our ability to work together to transcend our individual mortality and fallibility to be better version of ourselves and achieve greater goals than any of us could achieve individually before we shuffle off this mortal coil. By the same token, that fallibility is the source of many of our shortcomings, as we underestimate the risks inherent in future tasks and make bad decisions based on faulty information, and give in to time-inconsistency of preferences, and fall victim to our lacks of sympathy and foresight.

In my view, though, this “sin” should never be a source of shame–for one thing, without sin, we would each be perfect, and there would be nothing of interest. For another thing, and this is the really important one for me, perfection is simply not feasible–it doesn’t exist outside of our concept of the divine; it’s a stylized model, just like perfect competition or a frictionless vacuum. We don’t expect the world to feel guilt or shame for having friction or air–in fact, while a world without friction might make Newtonian mechanics a little easier to understand, it would be a fundamentally (and, since I love the world we live in, tragically) different world than the one we know and love. It’s not even clear what it means–it’s not internally consistent, because the source of friction is the electromagnetic forces that keep solids coherent and thus a projectile wouldn’t just take a purely parabolic arc in a frictionless world, it would also cease to cohere. All of which is why we ended up coming up with physical models that incorporate friction and electromagnetics and why scientists keep searching for better and more coherent models.

By the same token, I think sin functions much better as a descriptive concept–a heuristic device, really–that allows us to think about the negative space between intention and action, and allows us to engage with these ideas in useful ways. It’s tautological in that “sinful” means “less than perfect” which is to say “possible in our universe.” Wherever there is entropy, there is “sin” in this sense, and it becomes the source of all beauty and love, chaos and complexity and change. Without sin, there is no growth, no progress; all is stagnant and fixed.

So to the extent that “sin” is useful as a concept for thinking about human behavior, I like to make use of it, but I’d really like to see it stripped of its associations with shame. I think all human error derives from our very real and beautiful limitations, which we can come to embrace, accept, and occasionally transcend, but which should not be associated with guilt or recrimination.

Is “that’s so retarded” really actually quite offensive?

In high school, I regularly used “that’s so retarded” and “that’s so gay” to mean more or less the same thing, although “retarded” usually implied “unnecessarily and baroquely stupid; obtuse” where as “gay” usually meant “unnecessarily and wastefully (in the utility sense) restrictive; ‘lame’ .”

I stopped using “that’s so gay” after I met gay friends that found it offensive. I now find it offensive. I stopped using “that’s so retarded” after a friend of mine who has an autistic brother was offended by it. I recently started using it again (although far more sparingly than I did when I would rifle off off-handed put-downs in my high school days).

There’s really no good substitute for “that’s so retarded!” It may just be the case that one can either be successfully descriptive at the cost of being deemed an asshole; or one can be inoffensive at the cost of a succinct and, at times, perfectly apropos phrase (or indeed a number of them, as the slope slides).

Cheryl and I talked about this at some length when I made the more or less conscious decision to reinstitute “retarded” in my vocabulary. Certainly, I mean no offense by it. I wish, in fact, that there were some totally different word that could be used to replace the literal meaning/etymological origin of the, I argue, entirely new and different word “retarded” that I use, which is actually simply a homophonic homograph

It’s not the image of the mentally retarded that I’m going for. It’s onomatopoeia mostly. Cheryl offered “That’s so ridiculous” but it doesn’t do the same thing.

It may be indefensible. I mostly want access to what I think is ultimately an incredibly poetic phrase, without offending people. To that end, my current plan is to only use it around people who I can be sure will interpret it to mean what I want it to mean, and not interpret it to mean what I don’t want it to mean. I’m not sure if that’s having my cake and eating it too, or if it’s only eating cake when I’m not around people watching their weight.

Any pointers? Am I just an asshole?