We’ve been away the past week and a half, visiting with family in California, and the pictures and reports out of New York are just endlessly fascinating. Our daughter is bummed about having missed all that snow; the kid in me is disappointed too, but my wife and I are grimly bracing ourselves for what might greet us when we return this weekend. Despite New York’s brazen confidence, despite its long experience with snowstorms and all its established cleanup routines, this blizzard still stopped the city in its tracks. Human civilization is a formidable thing, but Nature is mighty still.
More blogging after I get home.
…a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything…
the world fallen under this falling.
– Billy Collins, from Snow Day
Tim Minchin gets to the heart of an atheist’s Christmas:
I would add only that family is also whom we choose to love, blood relation or no.
May this season find you well, in the company of those you love.
My head just exploded, again.
On YouTube, the videomaker notes: “Putting the ‘Ho back in Ho Ho Ho.”
A cough and cold, and drowsy-making medicine, and I miss this:
At a Lunar Eclipse
by Thomas Hardy
Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon’s meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.
How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?
And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven’s high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?
Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?
(h/t Bad Astronomy)
DailyKos’ resident historian R. Scott Peoples (writing as diarist Unitary Moonbat) exposes the flaws of the conservative religious claim that there’s a “War on Christmas,” and that secular liberals intend to paganize it. It turns out that many Christmas stories, symbols, and rituals were ancient pagan traditions to begin with, including the idea of a holy birth occurring at the time of the Winter Solstice (Jesus being a latecomer to a club that already included Mithra, Osiris, Apollo, Bacchus, and Adonis).
Some of this history I’m familiar with, and some is new to me. This Scriptural passage in particular surprised me: Continue reading
From Ricky Gervais’ essay in the Wall Street Journal:
Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution — a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us — with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.
But living an honest life — for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.
[...] “Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is — a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”
You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.
So says a true citizen of the Republic of Heaven. More like this, please.
(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Associated Press, via CBC News)
Anaïs Mitchell’s album Hadestown, a folk opera retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, has been rattling around in my head; it’s some of the most exquisite, haunting, ominous, elegiac, richly lyrical music I’ve heard in some time. Mitchell sings Eurydice opposite Justin Vernon’s Orpheus, and I think the decision to layer his voice into lush, yearning harmonies absolutely works for the poet that Pindar called “Father of Songs.”
“Why We Build the Wall,” one of my favorite tracks, is stark, ironic, Orwellian (and thus unnervingly relevant), perfect. Hades engages in a call-and-response with his subjects, as they build the wall to keep out “the enemy” (insert the immigration debate and the “war on terror” here). Mitchell performs it live:
Go here to listen to the album version, with Greg Brown rumbling magnificently as Hades (and an additional song, “Our Lady of the Underground,” with Ani DiFranco as Persephone); and here for an NPR interview with more song excerpts.
Hadestown is dark and beautiful and won’t be leaving my head anytime soon.
Ever since I saw Arthur Benjamin’s astonishing display of mathematical ability, I’ve been interested in alternative math strategies that you won’t learn in a modern American classroom (a great disservice to today’s students, I think).
Here’s Michael S. Schneider demonstrating the mathematics used by the ancient Egyptians and Chinese (and still employed in today’s computers; who knew?), which operates on the base-2 number system rather than the more familiar base-10:
If you’re curious about how it handles fractions and decimals, a video (somewhat dryly but clearly) explains further here.
Schneider seems to have some New Age-y notions I don’t buy into, about “sacred geometry” and the hidden significance of numbers in the universe; but his math strategies — like Arthur Benjamin’s — are solid, and deserve to be more widely taught to kids at school, I think. The more tools we have in our mental arsenal for figuring out the world, the better.
(via Unreasonable Faith)
I’m sorry, but I’ve just heard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” one too many times. Have people actually listened to those lyrics? Continue reading
These vignettes are brilliant. The New York Times presents a video gallery of fourteen actors embodying classic screen types — wordlessly, over a soundtrack of evocative strings.
Here’s Natalie Portman:
These moments are just crying out for new stories to be written around them.
See the rest here.