A Visit From St. Nicholas (or, more commonly)
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
- – -
Last night I was three paragraphs into a fairly long blog post about my many happy Christmases, and then I realized that I’d left it too late: You can write a tome about Christmas at the start of the season, but not at it’s end. Next year I shall write something personal about Christmas at great length in early December, but for now I will mark the occasion with this poem. My mother read this to my sister and I at least ten times every Christmas growing up. I’ll admit, I don’t remember all of these verses, and I think Mom Canadianized Happy Christmas to Merry Christmas, but the poem makes me feel safe and warm even now. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel a blanket tucked up to my chin. I didn’t make an attempt to do Christmas justice on this blog this year, but this is a contribution I can make from the heart to mark the day.
To everyone out there, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Ten years ago the Matrix changed the way movies were made. This weekend James Cameron’s Avatar has done the same. I’m writing this at two o’clock in the morning. I can’t sleep without at least trying to write down my impressions of what I just saw.
I really feel like I watched a turning point in pop culture. Just as there was a time before the Matrix introduced wire fu to the Western World and a time after it, so too will there be a time before Cameron’s vision became reality, and a time after it. Everyone is going to have to see this movie to participate in the zeitgeist. Every filmmaker is going to study the craft of it. There will be dozens of imitators of varying degrees of success, just as Star Wars inspired everything from Battlestar Galactica to Silent Running to the Black Hole. Most importantly, though, the magic is about to be injected back into a genre that has spent a decade and more back on its heels, rehashing, recycling, rebooting and reimaging the same material in an effort to stay safe in a volatile marketplace. Writers and directors are going to be able to dream again, and they’ll have Cameron to thank for that.
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Let me start off by saying I believe global warming to be true. I don’t care who sent what email about fudging the numbers in one report. I don’t care about statisticians fiddling with their data for dramatic effect during Al Gore’s power point presentations. I understand enough science to agree that greenhouse gases capture more of the sun’s energy. I also understand enough history to know humanity has had a profound impact on our planet.
Did you ever wonder why Iraq was once called the Fertile Crescent? Because ten thousand years ago it wasn’t a desert. Primitive agriculture ruined the top soil. That, and it was an area vulnerable to desertification.
Why does Lebanon revere cedar trees? Because it used to have forests of them like the redwoods of California. The Phoenician galleys made out of those timber sailed as far as Britain, and even circumnavigated Africa under Egyptian orders. Those forests are gone now. So are the forests of Northern Europe. So are the great White Pine and Red Pine forests of Canada. We’re doing it today with the rain forests.
Acid rain poisoned lakes all over the world. DDT pesticide got into the food chain, and it’s taken decades to get out. CFCs burned a hole in the ozone layer. The fallout from Chernobyl circled the Earth. We’ve swept the oceans clean of most fish. Tuna and cod are approaching a point of no return. When you see all those ways we have devastated the planet, how can anyone say that our cars and power plants aren’t capable of putting enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to change the way the world works?
BUT I must also admit that global warming and cooling is a natural process. Our climate is not, and has never been, static. Mankind can and is aggravating the situation, but the idea that if we just scale back to the level of pollution we were putting out in 1990 worldwide we will have the climate of 1990 forever is laughable. The people who believe that just want to believe in a happy ending. Reality doesn’t always have one.
Ten thousand years ago where I’m sitting right now was under two kilometers of ice. Ten thousand years is the blink of an eye in geological terms. Earth has been much warmer and much colder than it is today. Even within recorded history we had a Medieval Warm Period that allowed agriculture in Greenland, and a Little Ice Age that saw Washington’s Army deal with snowfall in Valley Forge that even my grandparents’ home in Muskoka cannot match today.
When we talk about Global Warming as something that can be fixed, we’re deluding ourselves. That’s not to say that it isn’t something that can be dealt with. What we do has an impact throughout the world, and there are things we can do to make sure our planet continues to be able to support us without worldwide famines and dramatic population crashes. Let’s talk about those.
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I’ll admit I’ve been intimidated at the thought of reviewing Kurt Vonnegut’s work. Literature with a capital L is something I enjoy without feeling like I have all the tools to really take it apart and see how it works. Even then, with most Literature, I can talk about what I appreciate. Kurt Vonnegut, though, is a breed apart. Kurt Vonnegut’s work takes the notion of the Great American Novel and makes it feel foolish about itself. You can have high art without pretense. In fact, quite often Vonnegut tweaks the nose of Establishment Literature by delivering more social commentary through satire, black humour, the study of absurdity, and what can only be called science fictional elements than Fitzgerald managed to do with a hundred garden parties.
I read Slaughterhouse Five in the Fifth Grade, and I remember very little about it except that it was good in an unexpected way. I didn’t pursue him any further, because I was getting into Tom Clancy, Ralph Peters and Larry Bond in a big way at the time. Forgive me: I was ten, and techno-thrillers were at the high water mark of their awesomeness. One day I will go back and re-read Slaughterhouse, I’m sure. In the meantime, a good friend of mine has taken to educating me about Vonnegut one book at a time. Put any fourteen Vonnegut fans in a room, and they’ll each have a favourite novel that I should have read first. That’s one of the powers of the man: His work is all engaging, but each is highly individualized and eccentric, engaging readers’ own idiosyncrasies in the course of the narrative.
Whatever I ‘should have read’ first (whatever that means), I was handed a copy of Mother Night to start, and when I was done that I was given Slapstick. I’ve wrestled with how to talk about my experience with them for some time now, but I think I’ve got that squared away. I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers, but I can promise nothing I will say should in any way take away from your enjoyment of what are, in all truth, fascinatingly unusual works of fiction.
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I was driving home from work today, and the most random question popped into my head: How do we know there weren’t any Dinosaurs species capable of creating a civilization on even a hunter-gatherer level? Has anyone taken a look to see if there’s any evidence of it? What kind of evidence would we need to look for?
A quick dive into Wikipedia provided me with two terms to consider: sentience and sapience. Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive subjectively. Avoiding the pitfalls of anthropomorphizing can be tricky, but I would argue that any animal that can recognize itself in the mirror, or dream, or figure out a simple problem should lay some small claim to sentience. Sapience is the the trickier one: For the purposes of my essay, lets call it a combination of sentience, self-awareness, conciousness, memory and judgment.
People, all joking aside, are both sentient and sapient. Good arguments are being made that Cetaceans like whales and dolphins are pretty damned close; so are elephants. So are crows and ravens and parrots and magpies. Do I need to mention Chimps, bonobos, gorillas? We’re only just starting to come to grips with the idea that we aren’t as unique as we think we are. What separates us from the animals isn’t so much the sheer capacity of our minds as our opposable thumbs, our social nature (in that we communicate our individual experiences in a number of ways to a larger collective who can understand and process that information), and our tool making. Brains, hands, gadgets and a willingness to share and teach what we figure out to others: That’s how we conquered the world.
Who’s to say dinosaurs didn’t do the same?
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