Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

(From the Nativity Homily of St. John Chrysostom)

I’ve been reading George Orwell again. It’s hard to stop: Orwell has to be one of the most winsome and charming writers in the English language, and writing, as he did, in the crucial years of the early 20th century, his writing seems to have permanent relevance, even 75 years later. And he provides a wonderful window into the mindset of the British during WWII, when the outcome was unknown and the stakes seemed enormous. It seems obvious to us now that of course the Germans were going to be defeated and of course the Americans would eventually get into the war, but none of those things were obvious at the time. There’s an atmosphere of sincere alarm in many of the parts from the late 30’s and early 40’s, and it’s quite bracing to read.

But he has his foibles, his socialism which is quite sincere and quite disastrously mistaken. He makes this statement, as part of a long essay about penny dreadfuls:

In a Hollywood film of the Russian Civil War the Whites would probably be angels and the Reds demons. In the Russian version the Reds are angels and the Whites demons. That is also a lie, but, taking the long view, it is a less pernicious lie than the other.

“Taking the long view”? Somehow, I don’t think that the long view of history is judging the Reds Bolsheviks very kindly.

But who care about that? Here’s Orwell on a much more important subject, tea:

Lastly, tea–unless one is drinking it in the Russian style–should be drunk WITHOUT SUGAR. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

And finally, about the habits of a book reviewer:

At about nine p.m. his mind will grow relatively clear, and until the small hours he will sit in a room which grows colder and colder, while the cigarette smoke grows thicker and thicker, skipping expertly through one book after another and laying each down with the final comment, “God, what tripe!” In the morning, blear-eyed, surly and unshaven, he will gaze for an hour or two at a blank sheet of paper until the menacing finger of the clock frightens him into action. Then suddenly he will snap into it. All the stale old phrases–”a book that no one should miss”, “something memorable on every page”, “of special value are the chapters dealing with, etc etc”–will jump into their places like iron filings obeying the magnet, and the review will end up at exactly the right length and with just about three minutes to go. Meanwhile another wad of ill-assorted, unappetising books will have arrived by post. So it goes on. And yet with what high hopes this down-trodden, nerve-racked creature started his career, only a few years ago.

Orwell comments that this description could be generalized, with little modification, to anyone in a literary profession. I’ll make no comment on that.

Our primal endowment—formless, destructive, uncontrollable instinct—paralyzes and isolates us. We cannot trust ourselves or one another until a firm structure of interdictions has been installed in everyone’s psyche. These must be expounded by an interpretive elite, ratified through a calendar of rituals, and enforced by stern authority. Every culture is a dialectic of prohibition and permission, renunciation and release. Freud would have agreed; but whereas his followers concluded that the original “yes” of instinct was silenced, or at least muted, by the “no” of repressive authority, Rieff countered that instinct was cacophonous and only the original, creative “no” gave it a distinct voice.

— George Scialabba, The Curse of Modernity:
Philip Rieff’s problem with freedom

Restrictions breed creativity.

Mark Rosewater


— Sebi, age 2

I had something significant planned to post today, but I ran out of time. Instead, here’s an interesting observation: April 2012 was my highest traffic month ever, with more than 5 times as many hits as I got in April 2011! So whatever I’m doing here (really, I barely have any idea what that is), it’s obviously working for somebody.

Here’s to ever-growing traffic in the future!

We are preparing for a blizzard.

This morning the sky was robin’s-egg blue, and the white winter sun made the snow blaze. It was warm all day, and the snowpack melted, compacted, and retreated in preparation for the coming onslaught. Right now, if I go outside and get a handful of the stuff it’s wet and heavy, ideal for packing into snowballs and building snowmen. This snow is from a few days ago, and when it fell it was light and airy, like flakes of sugar. It’s taken a few days of sunshine to condense it into the dense, serious stuff we have now.

Unfortunately, there’s no time for building much of anything, now. The weather reports predict a 100% chance of snow tonight. (Total certainty: the weathermen don’t often allow themselves such confidence.) They have red blazons across their bottoms warning people not to travel, to beware of cold, to stock their pantries. There will be wind and darkness, and in the morning we’ll wake up to find the air whirling with newborn snow. It will cover over the cantankerous slush of the last snowfall with fresh, youthful flakes, reblessing the landscape with untrodden white.

When we were little, my brother treasured the look of a freshly snowed lawn. He would get angry with anyone who marred the pristine white. I think he had the right idea.

I love winter.

So you’re going to fly across the country with toddlers. You may be worried about the challenges that this presents, but DON’T WORRY. I’ve done this before, and I’ve gathered some useful tips that you might find helpful.

  1. Ensure that the outbound flight is scheduled to coincide with the children’s ordinary bedtime. This way the youngsters, already disoriented and distressed by the confusion of the airport, will fall into fits of screaming as their bedtime approaches. The flight will then pass in a typhoon of crying and howling, which will be sure to amuse both the parents and the people sitting near them.
  2. Try to stay with relatives, especially relatives who have never had children of their own. They’ll find the experience of being suddenly plunged into a household with two toddlers to be a delightful and enlightening experience.
  3. It’s best if the relatives with whom you are staying have a small apartment in a quiet, upscale building with no other children around. The cramped space in the apartment will invigorate your children, and the neighbors will appreciate the extra color that your toddlers bring to their otherwise luxurious, well-ordered lives.
  4. Tell your hosts not to bother child-proofing! Children are fascinated by $60 bottles of liquor stored in a tasteful antique wine rack on the floor, and their active play will help your hosts find out whether their vintage furniture was really worth the money.
  5. Don’t forget the salutory effects of a change in time zones on your children’s sleeping habits. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that the kids wake up before 5 am, giving you the luxury of a long, noisy morning in which you can fully wake up before you face your day.
  6. If you have friends with kids, don’t visit them. Having kids of their own, they’ll be far too used to the joys of toddlerhood and so won’t have the unique appreciation of the experience.
  7. Whatever else you do, don’t decide to go stay with your Senegalese friends for the last few days of the trip, even if they invite you. Their gracious hospitality will make things far too pleasant, and their children will be distracting, fun-loving playmates for your children. The consequences of this will be obviously horrific.

Anyway, how was my recent trip to Seattle with my family? Fine, thanks. Why do you ask?