Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Week in Entertainment

DVD: Nightmare Castle - an odd horror film, with a few too many sudden leaps of knowledge on the part of our hero-doctor, but not too desperately bad. Also Little Miss Sunshine - as good the second time as when I saw it in the theater.

TV: Watched some episodes of Scrubs, which I'd never seen before; it's pretty funny - I may have to start. The sad season end of Dr Who. Garrison Keillor's New Year's Eve special - some good old-fashioned music and much too much of Vince Gill...

Read: A Ghost in the Machine and Wilma Dykeman's Haunting Memories

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2 Comments:

At 3:22 PM, December 29, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

Интересно написано....но многое остается непонятнымb

 
At 6:26 AM, January 02, 2010 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

Интересно написано....но многое остается непонятнымb

 

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Ring out, wild bells

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's hope has not yet come to pass - but it's my hope for this new year, too. (Christ is used in a figurative sense - at least by me! - a perfection of man, not the second coming...)

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

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Hogmanay ... New Year's Eve

Auld lang syne
by Robert Burns (based on a traditional air)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wandered mony a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidled i' the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

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An F-Ring Beauty for Year's End


A close-up of the F ring shows dark gores in its interior faint ringlets following the passage of Prometheus. Each gore represents a single interaction of the moon with the F ring material. The gores shear out over successive orbits, becoming the long, curving features seen here.

(Look here for a shot of Prometheus passing and pulling out streamers.)

The dark Keeler gap (42 kilometers, or 26 miles wide) is seen at right. The F ring core is similar in scale to the gap, at about 50 kilometers (30 miles) in width.

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1 Comments:

At 9:37 PM, December 31, 2006 Anonymous jc had this to say...

Also notice how the narrow outer band of the A ring beyond (to the left of, in this view) the Keeler Gap is significantly brighter than the rest of the A ring. This difference is actually quite dramatic in all data sets. That part of the ring also seems to have significantly smaller particles than the rest of the A ring. Not sure why...

 

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

00! Career night!

Hornbuckle, Parker, and BobbittOne of the things I like about coming home for Christmas is the chance to get over to Thompson-Bolling Arena and watch the Lady Vols play a game. Today was Notre Dame ... and after a somewhat sloppy first half, the Vols creamed the Irish 78-54. Guard Shannon Bobbitt (5'2") had a career night, racking up 17 points, including four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Sidney Spencer - another great 3-point shooter - also had 17, and Candace Parker had 22.


Shannon BobbittBut it was Bobbitt who really shone, in my opinion - she's little but she leaps like a hare and when she's on, whew! Tonight she scored eight straight points in a span of 26 seconds: a 3-pointer, two foul shots, and then another 3-pointer to make it 64-38 lead with 10:12 left. That was part of a 22-2 run by the Lady Vols, who never looked back after half-time's 29-27 near-tie.

Whooooooo! I love women's college hoops!

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Both or neither, guys

See, it's like this. New Jersey law isn't up for pick-and-choose enforcement.
"Either do marriages and civil unions, or do nothing," states John M. Carbone, an attorney representing county clerks and surrogates in all 21 New Jersey counties, in an internal memo obtained Wednesday by New Jersey's Bridgeton News.

The letter states that officials who perform marriage ceremonies but refuse to perform civil union ceremonies will be violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. This could result in removal from office as well as fines beginning at $10,000 for the first offense.
And this has to be said why? It should be a no-brainer.

Because, I mean, what would be next? "I don't approve of divorce and remarriage, so I won't officiate at the marriage of any divorced people" or "I don't believe in interfaith marriages so I won't officiate for people of different religions"? "I went to Bob Jones and won't officiate for mixed race couples"? What?

It's legal. It's civil. Get over it.

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I and the Bird 39

I and the Bird 39I and the Bird #39 is up at Natural Visions. I especially recommend Odds and Ends, at Ben Cruachan, especially a picture of a nest absolutely crammed with ?baby? wagtails; Lisa's many gorgeous shots of red-tailed hawks; Birdman James's lovely post about Tanzanian birding; and Charlie's fabulously illustrated trip in Africa - check out those photos! But all the posts are worth your while, and many have lovely photos.

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Winter Evening

By Alexander Pushkin

The storm covers the sky with darkness,
Snow circles in whirling eddies;
Now it howls, like a wild beast,
Now it cries, like a lost child,
Now it whistles sharply
Through the decaying thatch on the roof,
Now, like a traveller overdue,
It knocks upon our window pane.

In our decrepit little cottage
It's gloomy and it's dark.
Granny, why do you sit so, close to the window
And wrapped so deep in silence?
Has the howling of the storm
Wearied you at last, dear friend?
Or have you been lulled into sleep
By the drone of your spinning wheel?

Let's drink, dearest friend,
Drink to my poor youth.
Let's drink from grief - Where's the glass?
Our hearts will be merry.
Sing me a song about a bluetit
Peacefully dwelling across the sea.
Sing me a song about a young girl
Going to fetch water in the morning.

The storm covers the sky with darkness,
Snow circles in whirling eddies;
Now it howls, like a wild beast,
Now it cries, like a lost child;
Let's drink, dearest friend,
Drink to my poor youth.
Let's drink from grief - Where's the glass?
Our hearts will be merry.

Зимний Вечер

Буря мглою небо кроет,
Вихри снежние крутя;
То как звер, она завоет,
То заплачет как дитя,
То по кровле обветшалой
Вдруг соломой зашумит,
То, как путник запоздалый,
К нам в окошко застучит.

Наша ветхая лачужка
И печальна, и темна.
Что ж ты, моя старушка,
Приумолкла у окна?
ИЛи бури завыванъем
Ты, мой друг, утомлена,
Или дремлешь под жужжанем
Своего веретена?

Выпьем, добрая подружка
Бедной юности моей,
Выпьем с горя: где же кружка?
Серцу будет веселей.
Спой мне песню, как синица
Тихо за морем жила;
Спой мне песню, как девица
За водной по утру шла.

Буря мглою небо кроет,
Вихри снежние крутя;
То как звер, она завоет,
То заплачет как дитя,
Выпьем, добрая подружка
Бедной юности моей,
Выпьем с горя: где же кружка?
Серцу будет веселей.

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3 Comments:

At 9:43 AM, August 01, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

Your translation is beautiful. I've been surfing the Web looking for and comparing translations of "Winter Evening"--for a comparative literature essay that I'm writing on Pushkin and the Japanese haiku poet Issa.


Can I have your permission to use your translation in the article? And, if so, how would you like to be credited?

(When it's published I promise to let you know where, and I'll send you a copy if you like).

take care,

David in New Orleans

 
At 11:39 AM, August 01, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I'd be honored. I'm leery of posting my actual name on the web - not that it would be all that hard for someone to find out, but I like to maintain a semblance of anonymity so I don't get associated with my employer, you know? At any rate, if you use the email at the top of the page to reach me I'll let you know how I'd like to be credited.

 
At 2:21 PM, August 07, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

I've finished the essay and would like to send it to a journal this week. Since I haven't heard from you, I guess I'd better use the Walter Arndt translation from "Pushkin Threefold." Yours is better, though, I think.

I'll hold off until Friday, then I really need to get this into the mail. Next week meetings and classes start at my university.

take care,

David

 

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Happy Birthday, Rudyard!

Kipling
Today, in Bombay in 1865, Rudyard Kipling was born. His parents sent him "back" to England to avoid the typhoid and cholera, and he used his school experiences in several of his works, the horrifying 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' and Stalky and Co. particularly. After school he went back to India and became a reporter, writing fiction and poetry in his spare time. Celebrity came after six years of work was gathered up and sold in collected editions and he returned to England. But he didn't like living there, and after a few years spent traveling the world, he settled in Vermont - and it was there he wrote The Jungle Book, probably his most well-known work.
    Chapter Heading from In the Pride of His Youth
"Stopped in the straight when the race was his own!
Look at him cutting it -- cur to the bone!"
Ask ere the youngster be rated and chidden
What did he carry and how was he ridden?
Maybe they used him too much at the start.
Maybe Fate's weight-cloth was breaking his heart.


The Way Through the Woods
    from "Marlake Witches" Rewards and Fairies
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods ...
But there is no road through the woods.


The Sea and The Hills

Who hath desired the Sea?—the sight of salt water unbounded—
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?
The sleek-barrelled swell before storm, grey, foamless, enormous, and growing—
Stark calm on the lap of the Line or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing—
His Sea in no showing the same—his Sea and the same 'neath each showing:
His Sea as she slackens or thrills?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise—hillmen desire their Hills!

Who hath desired the Sea?—the immense and contemptuous surges?
The shudder, the stumble, the swerve, as the star-stabbing bow-sprit emerges?
The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder —
Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail's low-volleying thunder—
His Sea in no wonder the same—his Sea and the same through each wonder:
His Sea as she rages or stills?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise—hillmen desire their Hills.

Who hath desired the Sea? Her menaces swift as her mercies?
The in-rolling walls of the fog and the silver-winged breeze that disperses?
The unstable mined berg going South and the calvings and groans that declare it—
White water half-guessed overside and the moon breaking timely to bare it—
His Sea as his fathers have dared—his Sea as his children shall dare it:
His Sea as she serves him or kills?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise—hillmen desire their Hills.

Who hath desired the Sea? Her excellent loneliness rather
Than forecourts of kings, and her outermost pits than the streets where men gather
Inland, among dust, under trees—inland where the slayer may slay him—
Inland, out of reach of her arms, and the bosom whereon he must lay him
His Sea from the first that betrayed—at the last that shall never betray him:
His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise—hillmen desire their Hills.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

A Yard Full of Robins

Gwen birdwatching
Wow.

December's mild weather has certainly got the birds confused. A good three dozen or more robins have been here the last couple of days - not usual at all. Yesterday, in fact, they were out back making so much noise turning over the fallen leaves that I thought they might be a raccoon.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of them (perhaps I will later), but I don't have my camera with me, and my father is mostly taking digital pictures with a little camera that's not good for things at any distance.

In lieu of the robins - big healthy ones, covering the lawn - I offer you my cat, watching them!

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Rain at Night

Rain at Night by W.S. Merwin



This is what I have heard

at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moon
wind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind

after an age of leaves and feathers
someone dead
thought of this mountain as money
and cut the trees
that were here in the wind
in the rain at night
it is hard to say it
but they cut the sacred 'ohias then
the sacred koas then
the sandalwood and the halas
holding aloft their green fires
and somebody dead turned cattle loose
among the stumps until killing time

but the trees have risen one more time
and the night wind makes them sound
like the sea that is yet unknown
the black clouds race over the moon
the rain is falling on the last place

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Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

Today in 1709 (it was December 18th Old Style) Всепресветлейшая Великая Государыня Императрица Елисавет Петровна Самодержица Государыня Всемилостивейшая was born - Elizabeth of Russia - her full title is "Most Glorious Great Sovereign Empress Elisavet Petrovna, Autocrat and Sovereign Most Gracious".

Beautiful, brilliant, playful, and naturally indolent, she was the youngest daughter of Peter the First, the Great - legitimated after her birth, which would be used against her. When Peter's only son - Peter II - died young and without issue, their cousin - daughter of Ivan V, Peter I's brother and co-ruler - Anna became Empress. There followed even more of the tangled Romanov politics, culminating in a child-Emperor (Anna's nephew and half-German), whose German mother - seeking to destroy the line of Peter I and establish her own - made plans to send the unmarried Elizabeth to a convent for the rest of her life. Elizabeth, not much motivated to be political before this, responded with bold action that demonstrated that her Romanov political genes were not missing. Enlisting the Preobrazhensky Guards to her cause with a stirring speech, she rode with them to the Winter Palace and executed a brilliant coup d'etat that left her Empress.

As a ruler she was diplomatic, judicial, and anti-German - three valuable qualities in this period of Russian history. She founded colleges, ended the war with Sweden, allied Russia with Austria and England, and joined in the Seven Years' War with the unshakable goal of containing the Prussians. Not a single person was executed during her twenty-one-year reign, and she is still one of the most popular of Russian Tsars.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ummmm.... more "progress"

As Reuters puts it:
U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday he was making "good progress" in coming up with a fresh strategy on Iraq, as he met with top advisers at his Texas ranch. ...

"Success in Iraq is vital for our own security," Bush said. He said he was "making good progress towards coming up with a plan that we think will help us achieve our objectives. As I think about this plan, I always have our troops in mind." He said that he has "more consultations to do" and said his administration would be speaking with members of Congress.

I wonder if that's the same "progress" he described 20 days ago: "I know that progress has not been so rapid ... I am disappointed by the pace of success."

He does know that "progress" is movement forward, not just around in circles or even backwards, doesn't he?

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Winter, the aged chief

A December Day

That's no December sky!
Surely 'tis June
Holds now her state on high
Queen of the noon.

Only the tree-tops bare
Crowning the hill,
Clear-cut in perfect air,
Warn us that still

Winter, the aged chief,
Mighty in power,
Exiles the tender leaf,
Exiles the flower.

- Robert Fuller Murray

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, Louis!

Born today in 1822 in Dole, France - Louis Pasteur.

If you're like me, you think of pasteurized milk, and maybe beer ... but the man was a workhorse of science. Louis Pasteur brought about a veritable revolution in the 19th-century scientific method. By abandoning his laboratory and by tackling the agents of disease in their natural environments, he was able through his investigations to supply the complete solution to a given question, not only identifying the agent responsible for a disease but also indicating the remedy.

When in 1881 he had perfected a technique for reducing the virulence of various disease-producing microorganisms, he succeeded in vaccinating a herd of sheep against the disease known as anthrax. Likewise, he was able to protect fowl from chicken cholera, for he had observed that once animals stricken with certain diseases had recovered they were later immune to a fresh attack. Thus, by isolating the germ of the disease and by cultivating an attenuated, or weakened, form of the germ and inoculating fowl with the culture, he could immunize the animals against the malady. In this he was following the example of the English physician Edward Jenner in his method for vaccinating animals against cowpox. On April 27, 1882, Pasteur was elected a member of the Académie Française, at which point he undertook research that proved to be the most spectacular of all—the preventive treatment of rabies. Having detected the rabies virus by its effects on the nervous system and attenuated its virulence, he applied his procedure to man; on July 6, 1885, he saved the life of a nine-year-old boy, Joseph Meister, who had been bitten by a rabid dog.

Among his other discoveries - the theory of molecular asymmetry, showing that the biological properties of chemical substances depend not only on the nature of the atoms constituting their molecules but also on the manner in which these atoms are arranged in space. By means of simple and precise experiments, including the filtration of air and the exposure of unfermented liquids to the air of the high Alps, he proved that food decomposes when placed in contact with germs present in the air, which cause its putrefaction, and that it does not undergo transformation or putrefy in such a way as to spontaneously generate new organisms within itself.

He showed that milk could be soured by injecting a number of organisms from buttermilk or beer but could be kept unchanged if such organisms were excluded. After laying the theoretical groundwork, Pasteur proceeded to apply his findings to the study of vinegar and wine, two commodities of great importance in the economy of France; his pasteurization process, the destruction of harmful germs by heat, made it possible to produce, preserve, and transport these products without their undergoing deterioration. In 1870 Pasteur devoted himself to the problem of beer. Following an investigation conducted both in France and among the brewers in London, he devised, as he had done for vinegar and wine, a procedure for manufacturing beer that would prevent its deterioration with time. British exporters, whose ships had to sail entirely around the African continent, were thus able to send British beer as far as India without fear of its deteriorating.

In 1865 he undertook a government mission to investigate the diseases of the silkworm, which were about to put an end to the production of silk at a time when it comprised a major section of France's economy. To carry out the investigation, he moved to the south of France, the centre of silkworm breeding. Three years later he announced that he had isolated the bacilli of two distinct diseases and had found methods of preventing contagion and of detecting diseased stock.

In 1854 Pasteur became dean of the new science faculty at the University of Lille, where he initiated a highly modern educational concept: by instituting evening classes for the many young workmen of the industrial city, conducting his regular students around large factories in the area, and organizing supervised practical courses, he demonstrated the relationship that he believed should exist between theory and practice, between university and industry. A skillful experimenter endowed with great curiosity and a remarkable gift of observation, Pasteur devoted himself with immense enthusiasm to science and its applications to medicine, agriculture, and industry.
"Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence."

info and many sentences from: "Pasteur, Louis." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 27 Dec. 2006 < http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-12562 >.

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I heard a bird sing

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

- Oliver Herford

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Winter

from Songs of Travel, XVII - Robert Louis Stevenson

IN rigorous hours, when down the iron lane
The redbreast looks in vain
For hips and haws,
Lo, shining flowers upon my window-pane
The silver pencil of the winter draws.

When all the snowy hill
And the bare woods are still;
When snipes are silent in the frozen bogs,
And all the garden garth is whelmed in mire,
Lo, by the hearth, the laughter of the logs -
More fair than roses, lo, the flowers of fire!

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All the children? Well, you know ... all the non-Catholic ones

So the Pope gave his first Christmas homily.

As the AP story puts it:

"The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze toward all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn,'' Benedict said in his homily, in a reference to the Vatican's staunch opposition to abortion.

He did not indicate if his mention of abuse also referred to many Catholics who have claimed that when they were youngsters they were victims of sexual abuse by clergy in lawsuits and other complaints in the United States and elsewhere.

No. He wouldn't indicate that, would he?

Nor does he mention the children born with, and dying of, AIDS in Africa and elsewhere - or of many poverty-engendered causes - thanks to the Church's relentless hatred of birth control.

Because he, like his revered (and what does that say about some Catholics' priorities?) predecessor is just not into caring about them. The priests, and the Church, are far more important - and the unborn are the most important of all.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Winter Solstice, Camelot Station

holly


This is one of my favorite poems of all time.
Enjoy it and the day...

Winter Solstice, Camelot Station

John M. Ford


Camelot is served
By a sixteen-track stub terminal done in High Gothick Style,
The tracks covered by a single great barrel-vaulted glass roof framed upon iron,
At once looking back to the Romans and ahead to the Brunels.
Beneath its rotunda, just to the left of the ticket windows,
Is a mosaic floor depicting the Round Table
(Where all knights, regardless of their station of origin
Or class of accommodation, are equal),
And around it murals of knightly deeds in action
(Slaying dragons, righting wrongs, rescuing maidens tied to the tracks).
It is the only terminal, other than Gare d'Avalon in Paris,
To be hung with original tapestries,
And its lavatories rival those at the Great Gate of Kiev Central.
During a peak season such as this, some eighty trains a day pass through,
Five times the frequency at the old Londinium Terminus,
Ten times the number the Druid towermen knew.
(The Official Court Christmas Card this year displays
A crisp black-and-white Charles Clegg photograph from the King's own collection.
Showing a woad-blued hogger at the throttle of "Old XCVII,"
The Fast Mail overnight to Eboracum. Those were the days.)
The first of a line of wagons have arrived,
Spilling footmen and pages in Court livery,
And old thick Kay, stepping down from his Range Rover,
Tricked out in a bush coat from Swaine, Adeney, Brigg,
Leaning on his shooting stick as he marshalls his company,
Instructing the youngest how to behave in the station,
To help mature women that they may encounter,
Report pickpockets, gather up litter,
And of course no true Knight of the Table Round (even in training)
Would do a station porter out of Christmas tips.
He checks his list of arrival times, then his watch
(A moon-phase Breguet, gift from Merlin):
The seneschal is a practical man, who knows trains do run late,
And a stolid one, who sees no reason to be glad about it.
He dispatches pages to posts at the tracks,
Doling out pennies for platform tickets,
Then walks past the station buffet with a dyspeptic snort,
Goes into the bar, checks the time again, orders a pint.
The patrons half turn--it's the fella from Camelot, innit?
And Kay chuckles soft to himself, and the Court buys a round.
He's barely halfway when a page tumbles in,
Seems the knights are arriving, on time after all,
So he tips the glass back (people stare as he guzzles),
Then plonks it down hard with five quid for the barman,
And strides for the doorway (half Falstaff, half Hotspur)
To summon his liveried army of lads.

* * *

Bors arrives behind steam, riding the cab of a heavy Mikado.
He shakes the driver's hand, swings down from the footplate,
And is like a locomotive himself, his breath clouding white,
Dark oil sheen on his black iron mail,
Sword on his hip swinging like siderods at speed.
He stamps back to the baggage car, slams mailed fist on steel door
With a clang like jousters colliding.
The handler opens up and goes to rouse another knight.
Old Pellinore has been dozing with his back against a crate,
A cubical, chain-bound thing with FRAGILE tags and air holes,
BEAST says the label, QUESTING, 1 the bill of lading.
The porters look doubtful but ease the thing down.
It grumbles. It shifts. Someone shouts, and they drop it.
It cracks like an egg. There is nothing within.
Elayne embraces Bors on the platform, a pelican on a rock,
Silently they watch as Pelly shifts the splinters,
Supposing aloud that Gutman and Cairo have swindled him.

A high-drivered engine in Northern Lines green
Draws in with a string of side-corridor coaches,
All honey-toned wood with stained glass on their windows.
Gareth steps down from a compartment, then Gaheris and Aggravaine,
All warmly tucked up in Orkney sweaters;
Gawaine comes after in Shetland tweed.
Their Gladstones and steamers are neatly arranged,
With never a worry--their Mum does the packing.
A redcap brings forth a curious bundle, a rude shape in red paper--
The boys did that one themselves, you see, and how does one wrap a unicorn's head?
They bustle down the platform, past a chap all in green.
He hasn't the look of a trainman, but only Gawaine turns to look at his eyes,
And sees written there Sir, I shall speak with you later.

Over on the first track, surrounded by reporters,
All glossy dark iron and brass-bound mystery,
The Direct-Orient Express, ferried in from Calais and Points East.
Palomides appears. Smelling of patchouli and Russian leather,
Dripping Soubranie ash on his astrakhan collar,
Worry darkening his dark face, though his damascene armor shows no tarnish,
He pushes past the press like a broad-hulled icebreaker.
Flashbulbs pop. Heads turn. There's a woman in Chanel black,
A glint of diamonds, liquid movements, liquid eyes.
The newshawks converge, but suddenly there appears
A sharp young man in a crisp blue suit
From the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits,
That elegant, comfortable, decorous, close-mouthed firm;
He's good at his job, and they get not so much as a snapshot.
Tomorrow's editions will ask who she was, and whom with...

Now here's a silver train, stainless steel, Vista-Domed,
White-lighted grails on the engine (running no extra sections)
The Logres Limited, extra fare, extra fine,
(Stops on signal at Carbonek to receive passengers only).
She glides to a Timkin-borne halt (even her grease is clean),
Galahad already on the steps, flashing that winning smile,
Breeze mussing his golden hair, but not his Armani tailoring,
Just the sort of man you'd want finding your chalice.
He signs an autograph, he strikes a pose.
Someone says, loudly, "Gal! Who serves the Grail?"
He looks--no one he knows--and there's a silence,
A space in which he shifts like sun on water;
Look quick and you may see a different knight,
A knight who knows that meanings can be lies,
That things are done not knowing why they're done,
That bearings fail, and stainless steel corrodes.
A whistle blows. Snow shifts on the glass shed roof. That knight is gone.
This one remaining tosses his briefcase to one of Kay's pages,
And, golden, silken, careless, exits left.

Behind the carsheds, on the business-car track, alongside the private varnish
Of dukes and smallholders, Persian potentates and Cathay princes
(James J. Hill is here, invited to bid on a tunnel through the Pennines),
Waits a sleek car in royal blue, ex-B&O, its trucks and fittings chromed,
A black-gloved hand gripping its silver platform rail;
Mordred and his car are both upholstered in blue velvet and black leather.
He prefers to fly, but the weather was against it.
His DC-9, with its video system and Quotron and waterbed, sits grounded at Gatwick.
The premature lines in his face are a map of a hostile country,
The redness in his eyes a reminder that hollyberries are poison.
He goes inside to put on a look acceptable for Christmas Court;
As he slams the door it rattles like strafing jets.

Outside the Station proper, in the snow,
On a through track that's used for milk and mail,
A wheezing saddle-tanker stops for breath;
A way-freight mixed, eight freight cars and caboose,
Two great ugly men on the back platform, talking with a third on the ballast.
One, the conductor, parcels out the last of the coffee;
They drink. A joke about grails. They laugh.
When it's gone, the trainman pretends to kick the big hobo off,
But the farewell hug spoils the act.
Now two men stand on the dirty snow,
The conductor waves a lantern and the train grinds on.
The ugly men start walking, the new arrival behind,
Singing "Wenceslas" off-key till the other says stop.
There are two horses waiting for them. Rather plain horses,
Considering. The men mount up.
By the roundhouse they pause,
And look at the locos, the water, the sand, and the coal,
The look for a long time at the turntable,
Until the one who is King says "It all seemed so simple, once,"
And the best knight in the world says "It is. We make it hard."
They ride on, toward Camelot by the service road.

The sun is winter-low. Kay's caravan is rolling.
He may not run a railroad, but he runs a tight ship;
By the time they unload in the Camelot courtyard,
The wassail will be hot and the goose will be crackling,
Banners snapping from their towers, fir logs on the fire, drawbridge down,
And all that sackbut and psaltery stuff.
Blanchefleur is taking the children caroling tonight,
Percivale will lose to Merlin at chess,
The young knights will dally and the damsels dally back,
The old knights will play poker at a smaller Table Round.
And at the great glass station, motion goes on,
The extras, the milk trains, the varnish, the limiteds,
The Pindar of Wakefield, the Lady of the Lake,
The Broceliande Local, the Fast Flying Briton,
The nerves of the kingdom, the lines of exchange,
Running to a schedule as the world ought,
Ticking like a hot-fired hand-stoked heart,
The metal expression of the breaking of boundaries,
The boilers that turn raw fire into power,
The driving rods that put the power to use,
The turning wheels that make all places equal,
The knowledge that the train may stop but the line goes on;
The train may stop
But the line goes on.

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At 1:54 PM, January 22, 2012 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

I've been looking for this for 20 years. Wow.

BCFD36

 

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays!

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The Week in Entertainment

Film: Night at the Museum - this movie was much better than the reviews had led me to believe. I laughed a lot, in fact. It's odd - Ben Stiller is an actor I find appealing - gifted, even - but who almost always appears in movies I find appalling. This one was no Royal Tennebaums, but it was good.

DVD: Atomic Age Vampire - an odd French take on Dr Jekyll with a love interest - and Creature from the Haunted Sea - Roger Corman making fun of himself (I think) but not as funny as that might lead you to believe. Also watched Lady in the Water again - I repeat, narf and scrunt are not possible Korean words, and neither is Tartutik, for that matter. A British version of A Christmas Carol called "Scrooge" - not bad, but very short.

TV: Various stuff, none of particularly memorable - a Keeping Up Appearances "Christmas special" which seems to have been "Christmassy" only in the time it was broadcast, and Daisy's wearing red and green bows in her hair, for instance.

Read: Almost nothing. Started Imperial Life in the Emerald City, but haven't actually spent much time on reading...

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Let it snow!

view out the back door
I don't live in Colorado - whew! But my brother does, and he sent these photos. Nice and seasonal... Enjoy!

I shovel well





You know what? That's a lotta snow...

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Carnival of the Godless - Christmas Eve


The Christmas Eve edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up at God is for suckers. Some good posts, as usual (though I'm starting to get a complex; once again my submission is rejected...). Try Merry Christmas, Everyone from Grounded in Reality, or Is Jesus the Reason for the Season?" at About Atheism, or Atheist Revolution's Happy Holidays - Deal With It - all excellent. Then read the rest - and don't forget to look at Stardust's pictures of self-contradictory holiday displays at Thoughts for the Open Minded - they're great.

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The Tall Woman passes

"I'm going out to smell fresh rain on summer dust and prehistoric water odors of the old French Broad in flood. Won't you come too?"

Wilma Dykeman died on Friday, December 22nd. She was a great figure in my childhood, a writer of the place where I grew up, and she cast a giant shadow of her own. She lived all her life near the French Broad River in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, the only child of a mother whose people had lived in the North Carolina mountains since the eighteenth century. She collaborated on several books with her husband James R. Stokely, Jr., a poet and nonfiction writer, among them Neither Black Nor White, Seeds of Southern Change, and Prophet of Plenty.

Her own writing began with radio scripts and short stories, followed by articles for Harper's, the New York Times Magazine, Reader's Digest, and other periodicals. In all, she published more than sixteen books. The French Broad, one of the famous "Rivers of America" series, was the first, and represents a lifetime of observation and note-taking. It recounts the history, legend, biography (such as the chapter on Thomas Wolfe), sociology, and economics of a mountain region that draws its life and ways from this stream and its tributaries.

Her critically acclaimed novels especially reflect her understanding of people in the North Carolina mountains. The Tall Woman tells of a determined mother's fight for education and justice in the years after the Civil War. The Far Family picks up several generations later and shows how long-lasting her efforts were.

In The French Broad she wrote:
"...this is the chronicle of a river and a watershed, and a way of life where yesterday and tomorrow meet in odd and fascinating harmony... Dwellers of the French Broad country are learning an ancient lesson in all their natural resources; it is easy to destroy overnight treasures that cannot be replaced in a generation, easy to destroy in a generation that which cannot be restored in centuries."
And here is a meditation on the "Westward Ho!" mural in Nashville's State Capitol building:
The popular title for the mural echoes the cry not only of this small band of struggling humanity but of the irresistible multitudes to follow. It might have been voiced by one of the leaders--in coonskin cap--who has reached the top of the pass and whose outstretched arm beckons his companions on toward the horizon. Leutze identified that distinctive and optimistic figure as "a frontiere farmer (Tennesseian)."

The German-born Leutze, whose best-known painting was Washington Crossing the Delaware, had done his homework well. That "Tennesseian" and his family represented a new breed of American, those wishing to sever the umbilical cord to Europe and turn westward. Here are the western prototypes: buckskin-clad trapper, eager young adventurer on horseback, hunter well stocked with two rifles, a lad whose wound is perhaps reminder of an Indian encounter.

But above all his mural suggests the migrants' reach for a place to call home. Bathed in the scene's clearest shaft of light are a mother and daughter huddled beneath the protective arm of the "Tennesseian" and awestruck by the glorious vision before them. At an earlier point on the crowded trail up the mountains another mother and child lean forward in one of the many covered wagons which, upright or awry, bear the tools and furnishings for future homes. As in the earlier westward thrust across the Appalachians in which Tennesseans had tended to bring their families with them to the frontier, it is the yearning for land as home that provides meaning and energy to overcome all doubt and hardship on the long trail.

Both ominous and promising at the center foreground of the scene, though obscured under deep shadows in contrast to the sunlit faces of the pioneer leaders, a black youth leads a donkey bearing a young Irish immigrant and her infant. Is he already free or does he represent that struggle for emancipation tearing at the nation's vitals even during the mural's creation? Is she welcome in America or has she already encountered the rising tension over immigration, especially in some of the growing cities? Whichever the case, these two will remain part of the country's and Tennessee's unfolding history.

Conspicuous by their absence are the Native Americans whose spirit nevertheless broods over the scene in several vague figures along the upper border.
And here's a thought about the place I grew up:
At a place called the Black Oak Ridge--later Oak Ridge--the vision of Albert Einstein for harnessing the power of the atom and a simple "O.K." by President Roosevelt appropriating two billion dollars came together to create the nation's first uranium purifying plant. Known only by the code name "Y-12," it represented a new unknown frontier.

Oak Ridge's residents were brilliant scientists and engineers gathered from universities and laboratories around the world. They were generals from the armed services, administrators, and in a great horde they were laborers laying down roads and streets in winter mud and summer dust, constructing dormitories and barracks, single and multifamily homes, trailers, stores--a city. Where there were woods and fields and scattered farmhouses a few months earlier, miles of bristling fences appeared. Questions and rumors were forbidden.

On August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Oak Ridge learned the immediate purpose of its existence while the world entered a new age of human existence.

Continuing research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory addressed both war and peace and stirred some of the old mystery that surrounded its beginning. Conclusions reached by J. H. Rush, a physicist who worked on the atomic project, remain relevant today. Rush believed that "the specific horror of atomic war had obscured the real meaning of the Manhattan District Project. What the project signified was that mankind was moving into a new order of power over itself and the environment, that henceforth the consequences of man's acts must be weighed with utmost caution."

Self-discipline and the wise use of nature: if the first is a supreme reminder posed by Oak Ridge, the other is best exemplified by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are physically separated by an hour's drive but when the last descendant of a pioneer family still living in the national park was asked by a visitor, "How far is it from the Great Smokies to Oak Ridge?" she replied, "About a hundred years."

Her figure was off by several million years, but the spirit of her answer was accurate in the Tennessee way of measuring distances between places and people by time as well as space, by personal experience as well as by immediate appearance. Perhaps just as pathbreaking as Oak Ridge in the way it links people and nature, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the first national park (dedicated in 1940) not granted by Washington from its public lands but rather bought by the people themselves. Tennessee and North Carolina's state funds, philanthropic gifts of the wealthy, schoolchildren's nickels and dimes--all became a legacy for future generations. For years it has attracted more visitors than any of our other national parks. Here is a green kingdom of more varieties of trees than in all of Europe, where birds can migrate vertically from the valleys to high pinnacles rather than migrating to a distant habitat, where the diversity of animal and aquatic life reaches from the lordly black bear to the lowly salamander, each claiming its own territory.

Cabins, farms, a mill, a schoolhouse, and a church still stand in the park as witness to the hard, independent, often rewarding life of those early settlers in this land of the western waters. And along its western boundary a segment of the Cherokee still live on the special reservation won after fierce guerrilla resistance to removal.
She was deeply concerned with the people and the natural resources of Appalachia, and the way they shaped and sometimes destroyed each other. Her books are simple, not obscure, but deeply illuminating.

She will be missed.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

UPS Saves Christmas!

Well, not all of Christmas. But still -

See, I ordered something for my niece, who's hard to buy for, from Bed Bath & Beyond. I selected their "expedited shipping". Turns out - as I discover after they've shipped it - that that's UPS Ground. So it was scheduled for delivery on Dec 26. If regular shipping is USPS, it probably would have gotten here today (especially considering it's a gift card, for crying out loud).

But I just got a call from the UPS place and they said they're delivering Christmas packages today!

Yay! UPS, you rock!

(but speaking of weird shipping policies... I got a box from Barnes & Noble.com with one book and one DVD in it. The box was 12" x 11" x 17". Are they running out of boxes?)

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Happy Birthday, Robert

Rboert BlyRobert Bly was born today in 1926.

"I recognized that a single short poem has room for history, music, psychology, religious thought, mood, occult speculation, character, and events of one's own life."



Dawn

Some love to watch the sea bushes appearing at dawn,
To see night fall from the goose wings, and to hear
The conversations the night sea has with the dawn.

If we can't find Heaven, there are always bluejays.
Now you know why I spent my twenties crying.
Cries are required from those who wake disturbed at dawn.

Adam was called in to name the Red-Winged
Blackbirds, the Diamond Rattlers, and the Ring-Tailed
Raccoons washing God in the streams at dawn.

Centuries later, the Mesopotamian gods,
All curls and ears, showed up; behind them the Generals
With their blue-coated sons who will die at dawn.

Those grasshopper-eating hermits were so good
To stay all day in the cave; but it is also sweet
To see the fenceposts gradually appear at dawn.

People in love with the setting stars are right
To adore the baby who smells of the stable, but we know
That even the setting stars will disappear at dawn.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

HMSH Me, you bet!

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Her Most Serene Highness Countess Ridger the Subversive of Leighton Buzzard

Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

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2 Comments:

At 4:20 PM, December 22, 2006 Anonymous jc had this to say...

Hmm, did you choose "subversive"? I was assigned the title "functional", which I suppose is technically true, but I was hoping the peculiar title would be based on more information than my first name and gender. Anyway, happy Christmas, or as we refer to it: ADATEP Day (Atheist Decorate A Tree and Exchange Presents Day).
Josh

 
At 12:02 AM, December 23, 2006 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

To be honest, I tried several times until I got one I liked ...

 

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Happy Birthday, Edward!

Pulitzer prize winner Edward Arlington Robinson was born this day in 1869 in Head Tide, Maine. He wrote lots of poems - the famous biographical ones like 'Richard Cory' and 'Miniver Cheevy'; long poems like 'Merlin', 'Old King Cole', 'Pasa Thalassa Thalassa', and 'Nimmo'; midlength miscellany like 'Momus' and 'Neighbors'; and lots of sonnets like these...


Amaryllis

ONCE, when I wandered in the woods alone,
An old man tottered up to me and said,
“Come, friend, and see the grave that I have made
For Amaryllis.” There was in the tone
Of his complaint such quaver and such moan
That I took pity on him and obeyed,
And long stood looking where his hands had laid
An ancient woman, shrunk to skin and bone.

Far out beyond the forest I could hear
The calling of loud progress, and the bold
Incessant scream of commerce ringing clear;
But though the trumpets of the world were glad,
It made me lonely and it made me sad
To think that Amaryllis had grown old.


Erasmus

WHEN he protested, not too solemnly,
That for a world’s achieving maintenance
The crust of overdone divinity
Lacked aliment, they called it recreance;
And when he chose through his own glass to scan o
Sick Europe, and reduced, unyieldingly,
The monk within the cassock to the man
Within the monk, they called it heresy.

And when he made so perilously bold
As to be scattered forth in black and white,
Good fathers looked askance at him and rolled
Their inward eyes in anguish and affright;
There were some of them did shake at what was told,
And they shook best who knew that he was right.


Firelight

TEN years together without yet a cloud,
They seek each other’s eyes at intervals
Of gratefulness to firelight and four walls
For love’s obliteration of the crowd.
Serenely and perennially endowed
And bowered as few may be, their joy recalls
No snake, no sword; and over them there falls
The blessing of what neither says aloud.

Wiser for silence, they were not so glad
Were she to read the graven tale of lines
On the wan face of one somewhere alone;
Nor were they more content could he have had
Her thoughts a moment since of one who shines
Apart, and would be hers if he had known.

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At 7:31 AM, December 27, 2006 Blogger Kate had this to say...

I have read him. He was really good. Belated Happy Birthday to him. Drop in at My Blog for some cool birthday gift ideas and tips.

 

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Few - Little: what's the difference?

Well, on Heidi's advice, I watched "Ball of Fire" tonight ... it was indeed funny. (Verbular clause!)

Before the movie came on they ran a short appreciation/tribute by Gary Cooper's daughter, in which she said this:
On the screen my father came across as a man of little words.
I'm very nearly certain she meant to say "few words" - especially since they immediately showed us a clip of him saying "No player ever rises to prominence solely on talent. They're molded by forces other than themselves. They should remember this."

Oh, those synonyms. They so rarely can be substituted for each other...

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At 8:30 PM, March 19, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

little: it's used for uncountable nouns

few: it's used for countable nouns.

 
At 8:46 PM, March 19, 2009 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Um... I was joking.

But thanks.

 

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Carnival of the Liberals - year 2 begins!

Carnival of the Liberals is up over at GrrlScientist's place. Some good posts for thoughtful reading over the holidays.

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Which Christmas Carol are you?


What Christmas Carol are you?


You are 'Deck the Halls'! Let's be honest, it isn't Christmas you are celebrating, is it? In fact, you know full well that there were no shepherds in the fields in December, and that the date of Christmas was put at midwinter specifically to coincide with the older celebrations of Yule and the birth of Mithras. An unashamed Pagan, you take great glee in the number of carols referring to holly, evergreens and Winter's end, and will sing them with gusto. You know where they really came from. And you do enjoy the seasonal celebrations, regardless of their name... A merry Yule to you!
Take this quiz!

Quizilla | Join

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Happy Solstice

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

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Midwinter. That's MID-Winter

Okay. I understand (I guess) how lots of people have gotten the notion that the Solstice is "the first day of winter". But how on Earth can somebody write this paragraph (from The Writer's Almanac, by the way - emphasis mine):
In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.
I mean, come on, guys. In the same paragraph you call it the first day of winter and midwinter?

Look it up:
Main Entry: mid·win·ter
Pronunciation: primarystressmid|wintschwa(r)
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, from midd, midde mid + winter -- more at MID, WINTER
: the middle of winter

Main Entry: midwinter day
Function: noun
Usage: usually capitalized M&D
archaic : CHRISTMAS

Citation

"midwinter" and "midwinter day." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (21 Dec. 2006).
As Jane Harrison put it in Ancient Art and Ritual, referring to the ancient Greeks:
The year with its 365 days is a Sun-Year. Once this Sun-Year established and we find that the times of the solstices, midwinter and midsummer became as, or even more, important than the spring itself. The date of the Daphnephoria is not known.
In many countries (for instance, Sweden or Estonia) the big holidays are Christmas (midwinter) and Midsummer Day. Note the names...

If today is the beginning of winter, then winter is entirely composed of shortening days. That doesn't even make sense.

The Solstices are Midwinter and Midsummer. The equinoxes are mid-spring and mid-autumn (though we don't use those names). They're not the first day of anything.

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At 1:08 PM, December 21, 2006 Blogger Brian had this to say...

I think the confusion arises because of the climate: winter temperatures don't track the length of the day, they reach their nadir weeks after the shortest day. The coldest days of winter are still weeks away.

 

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Season is the Reason (redux)

Happy Winter Solstice to my Northern Hemisphere readers...

Winter Solstice Canada
And happy Summer Solstice to my Southerners...

Summer Solstice Austrailia
(I posted this earlier when I wasn't sure if I'd be posting now, but I am, and today's the day, so I'm posting it again. Anyway, you can't say it often enough, can you?)

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Sagan Blogathon

Today is the tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan's death - he was 62, and we lost him far, far too young.



There's a Carl Sagan Memorial Blogathon going on.

I'm not qualified to talk about his science - but I can say I read his books and watched "Cosmos" and fell in love with the universe he described. I read "Demon-Haunted World" and knew I wasn't alone.

And he argued for cameras on space probes - as you know I love Cassini: imagine no pictures.

Carl - you were a treasure for the whole of our planet - our species - and you're missed. But you left a legacy of work that will live for a long time.

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Happy Holidays!


What's going on with the War on Christmas this year, anyway? What I mean is - this whole "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas" thing. Or, "Happy Hannukah", for that matter - saw that one on Fox last night while channel surfing... I guess Fox has decided not to be bullied by the more bigoted of their viewers. Which is what this is about, after all. How did we let being polite get highjacked by the right and turned into an insult - how did trying to make sure you didn't offend someone turn into "PC", and how did forcing your beliefs down other people's throats turn into a cherished right? And why on earth did how someone wishes you be happy turn into such an earthshattering event, anyhow?

There are two ways to approach that greeting thing, after all: you say what you think they want to hear, or you say what you want to hear. So if someone says "Merry Christmas", they're probably a Christian - or think you are. Can it be an insult? I would think it can: if you're, say, wearing a yarmulke or hijab or pagan symbol, then an in-your-face "Merry Christmas" is pretty clearly an insult. But if someone says "Happy Holidays". is it possible to interpret it as an insult? Christmas is a holiday, isn't it? So how can "Happy Holidays" be an insult? Only, I would argue, if your Christianity is not just the dominant part of you, but the only part of you - so that your inability to assert it at any moment threatens your existence. And even then, surely, you can just flippin' respond "Merry Christmas", can't you? (In that sneering aggressive tone of voice that turns your response into an insult in itself, of course - such a good advertisement, likely to bring people to church in droves... but I digress.) Seriously, how can "Happy Holidays" be an insult? It's not as though there's a secret message encoded in it - Happy holidays except for Christmas which I hope sucks! mwahahahaha.... Instead, it's a wish that doesn't presume - doesn't insist that you are like me, that what I celebrate is the only thing to celebrate. It's "I hope you're happy."

How is that bad?

Here, let me note that I know some atheists hate the word "holiday" - it means "holy day", after all, doesn't it? Well, no.

It derives from "holy day", but claiming that that's what it means now is the fallacious argument from etymology, insisting that word meanings don't change and that whatever the earliest meaning of a word was is somehow the "real" meaning. That's not how languages work. A holiday nowadays isn't a holy day, it's a day off - in British English it's a synonym for "vacation". The Fourth of July isn't holy, nor is President's Day, and when Death took a holiday church had nothing to do with it. If I tell someone I'm taking a holiday from something, I could as easily say vacation, day off, or even that I'm playing hookey. Holidays aren't holy, no matter how many people insist they are. (If they were, no one would have to insist on it.)

And while we're on the topic, what are those "holidays", anyhow? There's Christmas, of course, and New Year's Day (We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year); there's Hanukkah (we start back at Thanksgiving); there's Diwali and Kwanzaa, and sometimes there's Eid. There's the solstice and Saturnalia and Festivus. It's the middle of winter - people will celebrate it when the days begin to grow longer again. But mainly, in this country, it's Christmas and New Year's - those are the federal holidays, the days off work (for lots of us, and even those who have to work them get something, a different day or extra money). That's why it's "Happy Holidays" in the plural.

That said, I'll say "Merry Christmas" to people who say it to me. I won't bristle up and tell them what they can do with it, even if they're obnoxious. (If they're obnoxious, I'll respond with "Good Yule!" or, once I admit it, "Happy Solstice!") But I don't mind saying "Merry Christmas. I keep Christmas - I love the whole holiday. But what is it that we freethinkers mean by "Christmas"? If even Richard Dawkins keeps Christmas, what is it?

First - it's not a new question. Did you know that in the entire length of Dickens' A Christmas Carol there is not one mention of Jesus? This is the closest:
"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"
All the references to God are in the form of "God bless us" or "Oh God!". True, there are some references to life after death, but no mention of God is there: Jacob Marley uses the passive in his famous line
"It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
Who dooms them? He doesn't say... And the Ghost of Christmas Present charges Scrooge with "Heaven":
"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."
But all of these are Earth-centered - Christmas is perceived of as a time when men should do good to other men.

Scrooge's nephew says this to him:
But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
And at "the end of it" Dickens describes Scrooge thus:
He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world... and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!


So what's my point? Just this: There are two holidays in the Western world, both of them falling on December 25th and both of them now called Christmas. There's the Christian festival, the Feast of the Nativity - the one with the creche and Baby Jesus and sacred songs; and there's the other one, the secular Yule - the holiday with the tree and the presents and Santa Claus, the holiday Irving Berlin wrote secular songs for. The holiday with holly and turkey and trimmings, the one with snow and tinsel and old fashioned Father Christmases, the lights and ornaments and reindeer... Most people in this country may keep them both, but precious few keep only The Nativity. Many more than that keep Yule...

Last night we drove around looking at Christmas lights. There were several dozens of houses where not one scrap of Jesus could be seen in the lights, and three where there were: one that had a "Jesus is the reason for the season" sign above Santa, one that had a cross inside the outline of a tree, and one that had only a nativity scene. Only one house that had no trace of Yule, two that mixed, and all the rest were Yule alone.

There is certainly a religious component to Christmas - but which religion? Christmas as it is practiced in the US at least, and I expect around the European-origin world at large, isn't really about Baby Jesus® anymore.

So I celebrate - and say "Merry Christmas".

But now, to all my readers:

Season's Greetings - and Happy New Year!

Whatever you want those words to mean.

Rejoice with the return of the Sun and the lengthening of days. Be well, be happy, be kind to one another. This is our life: live it well together.

Happy Holidays.

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Winter Sleep

WINTER SLEEP
by Elinor Wylie


When against earth a wooden heel
Clicks as loud as stone and steel,
When snow turns flour instead of flakes,
And frost bakes clay as fire bakes,
When the hard-bitten fields at last
Crack like iron flawed in the cast,
When the world is wicked and cross and old,
I long to be quit of the cruel cold.

Little birds like bubbles of glass
Fly to other Americas,
Birds as bright as sparkles of wine
Fly in the night to the Argentine,
Birds of azure and flame-birds go
To the tropical Gulf of Mexico:
They chase the sun, they follow the heat,
It is sweet in their bones, O sweet, sweet, sweet!
It's not with them that I'd love to be,
But under the roots of the balsam tree.

Just as the spiniest chestnut-burr
Is lined within with the finest fur,
So the stony-walled, snow-roofed house
Of every squirrel and mole and mouse
Is lined with thistledown, sea-gull's feather,
Velvet mullein-leaf, heaped together
With balsam and juniper, dry and curled,
Sweeter than anything else in the world.
O what a warm and darksome nest
Where the wildest things are hidden to rest!
It's there that I'd love to lie and sleep,
Soft, soft, soft, and deep, deep, deep!

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Cassini Photo Contest

Run over to the Cassin-Huygens page and vote in the photo contest for you favorite image of last this year!

Pick from shots like this one:

mimas and dione

or others I've posted or any of the others there.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

View of the North Pole


Saturn's north poles, that is. Cassini took this breath-taking shot a couple of months ago. Just stunning.

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Happy Birthday, Steven!

Today in 1946 Steven Spielberg was born.

Back in January 1978 Martin Gardner wrote this for The New York Review of Books, reviewing Close Encounters of the Third Kind:
It is fashionable now to describe Spielberg as a terribly gifted but innocent prodigy, bug-eyed with wonder and lost in the Ozzy worlds of modern technology and the silver screen. It will be interesting, concluded Newsweek, to watch him grow up. Yes. And the more he grows the less likely he'll make another blockbuster.
Well... like that movie or not, you have to admit: Either Spielberg never grew up, or Gardner was dead wrong.

(Here's the review, but it costs money to read it.)

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Week in Entertainment

TV: Dr Who - you know, David showed me "the whole season" but this episode was new to me! I quite enjoyed it - Rose is more and more discovering how wonderful she is. I fear for her - the Devil doesn't lie, he doesn't have to, Jacob says, and the Devil said Rose would die in battle...

Read: The Geographer's Library - such a good book.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, Jane

On this day in 1775, in Hampshire, England, Jane Austen was born.

That's enough, isn't it?

Okay - Persuasion, Emma, Pride & Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility ... we all know those. There's also her Juvenalia, incuding Love & Freindship [sic], a short satirical epsitolatory novel, very funny:

Alas! my fears were but too fully justified; she grew gradually worse -- and I daily became more alarmed for her. At length she was obliged to confine herself solely to the Bed allotted us by our worthy Landlady. -- Her disorder turned to a galloping Consumption and in a few Days carried her off. Amidst all my Lamentations for her (and violent you may suppose they were) I yet received some consolation in the reflection of my having paid every Attention to her that could be offered, in her illness. I had wept over her every Day -- had bathed her sweet face with my tears and had pressed her fair Hands continually in mine. -- "My beloved Laura (said she to me a few Hours before she died) take warning from my unhappy End and avoid the imprudent conduct which had occasioned it... Beware of fainting-fits... Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet beleive me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution... My fate will teach you this... I die a Martyr to my greif for the loss of Augustus... One fatal swoon has cost me my Life... Beware of swoons, Dear Laura... A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to Health in its consequences -- Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint --"

These were the last words she ever addressed to me... It was her dieing Advice to her afflicted Laura, who has ever most faithfully adhered to it.

And Frederick and Elfrida, which is also very funny:
It was not till the next morning that Charlotte recollected the double engagement she had entered into; but when she did, the reflection of her past folly, operated so strongly on her mind, that she resolved to be guilty of a greater, & to that end threw herself into a deep stream which ran thro' her Aunt's pleasure Grounds in Portland Place.

She floated to Crankhumdunberry where she was picked up & buried; the following epitaph, composed by Frederic, Elfrida & Rebecca, was placed on her tomb.

Epitaph
Here lies our friend who having promis-ed
That unto two she would be marri-ed
Threw her sweet Body & her lovely face
Into the Stream that runs thro' Portland Place.

These sweet lines, as pathetic as beautifull were never read by any one who passed that way, without a shower of tears, which if they should fail of exciting in you, Reader, your mind must be unworthy to peruse them.

And not to forget her deliciously partisan and funny History of England, "by a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian."
The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned, (as this history I trust has fully shewn) & nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principle motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.
And here's a poem (the accompanying poem to The Janeites from Debits and Credits) by Rudyard Kipling:
Jane's Marriage

Jane went to Paradise:

That was only fair.
Good Sir Walter followed her,
And armed her up the stair.
Henry and Tobias,
And Miguel of Spain,
Stood with Shakespeare at the top
To welcome Jane--

Then the Three Archangels
Offered out of hand
Anything in Heaven's gift
That she might command.
Azrael's eyes upon her,
Raphael's wings above,
Michael's sword against her heart,
Jane said: "Love."

Instantly the under-
Standing Seraphim
Laid their fingers on their lips
And went to look for him.
Stole across the Zodiac,
Harnessed Charles's Wain,
And whispered round the Nebulae
"Who loved Jane?"

In a private limbo
Where none had thought to look,
Sat a Hampshire gentleman
Reading of a book.
It was called Persuasion
And it told the plain
Story of the love between
Him and Jane.

He heard the question,
Circle Heaven through--
Closed the book and answered:
"I did -- and do!"
Quietly but speedily
(As Captain Wentworth moved)
Entered into Paradise
The man Jane loved!

Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And while the stones of Winchester--or Milson Street--remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England's Jane!

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The Season is the Reason

Happy Winter Solstice to my Northern Hemisphere readers...

Winter Solstice Canada
And happy Summer Solstice to my Southerners...

Summer Solstice Austrailia

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1 Comments:

At 8:30 AM, November 30, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

Congratulations?

 

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Christmas in India

Dim dawn behind the tamarisks—the sky is saffron-yellow—
As the women in the village grind the corn,
And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow
That the Day, the staring Eastern Day, is born.
O the white dust on the highway! O the stenches in the byway!
O the clammy fog that hovers over earth!
And at Home they're making merry 'neath the white and scarlet berry—
What part have India's exiles in their mirth?

Full day behind the tamarisks—the sky is blue and staring—
As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke,
And they bear One o'er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring,
To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke.
Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly—
Call on Rama—he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
With our hymn-books and our psalters we appeal to other altars,
And to-day we bid "good Christian men rejoice!"

High noon behind the tamarisks—the sun is hot above us—
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner—those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the Heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap—wherefore we sold it. Gold was good—we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain!

Grey dusk behind the tamarisks—the parrots fly together—
As the sun is sinking slowly over Home;
And his last ray seems to mock us shackled in a lifelong tether.
That drags us back howe'er so far we roam.
Hard her service, poor her payment—she in ancient, tattered raiment—
India, she the grim Stepmother of our kind.
If a year of life be lent her, if her temple's shrine we enter,
The door is shut—we may not look behind.

Black night behind the tamarisks—the owls begin their chorus—
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honor, O my brother, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labours—let us feast with friends and neighbours,
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For, if "faint and forced the laughter," and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past.

—Rudyard Kipling

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Possible Sparse Posting Ahead

I'll be home for Christmas...

I'll be there for 3 weeks (ah, bliss). I will of course have internet access (cable modem no less) but, well, it's a vacation, innit? I hope to do some writing, and I know I'll do some reading, and then there's the family and the lazing around and the good times. Thus, I'm not sure exactly how much blogging will get done. Some, probably one a day - and maybe more, depending on what comes along.

But I didn't want to leave my faithful, far-flung few wondering!

May you all have wonderful holidays, whatever if anything you celebrate!

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Happy Birthday, Bill of Rights!

Today in 1791 the first ten amendments to the Constitution were adopted - the Bill of Rights.

Read them here.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pfiffe und Buh-Rufe vom Publikum

Roberto Alagna walked out of "Aida" at la Scala on December 10th. Below are four different news stories, each displaying a certain, possibly insightful, different take on the incident. The English captures a sense of the drama and the people involved, the French describes the magnificence of his fury, the German describes the impropriety of his actions, and the Italian portrays him as unrepentant and/or out of touch with reality...

English-New York Times:
Roberto Alagna, the French tenor who opened the Teatro all Scala's season in Milan on Thursday as Radames in a new production of "Aida," walked out of Sunday's performance after he was heckled for his opening aria, "Celeste Aida." Mr. Alagna's stand-in, Antonello Palombi, was quickly ordered onstage, still wearing jeans and sport shirt. At the intermission after Act II, he donned Radames's costume and was given a warm reception at the final curtain. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Mr. Alagna, 43, complained about the audience's hostility and said, "The whistles started even before I had begun to sing."
French - Le Monde:
The Franco-Italian tenor Roberto Alagna created quite a scandal on Sunday, 10 December, in Milan by deserting the scene at la Scala in the middle of a presentation of Aida, the Verdi opera that is opening the season at the prestigious theater. A few whistles during the first act at the end of the tricky aria "Celeste Aida" were all it took to undo the singer, who first sat on a prop stair, before leaving at a furious pace while undoing his Radames costume.

Le ténor franco-italien Roberto Alagna a créé un beau scandale, dimanche 10 décembre à Milan, en désertant la scéne de la Scala au milieu de la représentation d'Aïda, l'opéra de Giuseppe Verdi qui ouvre la saison du prestigieux théâtre. Quelque sifflets ont suffi, dès le premier acte, à la fin de la périlleuse aria "Celeste Aïda", pour désarçonner le chanteur, qui a commencé par s'asseoir sur un gradin du décor, avant de sortir d'un pas furibond en dégrafant son costume de Radamès.

German - Berliner Zeitung:
The tenor Roberto Alagna left the stage of Milan's la Scala in a rage on Saturday evening after he had to take in whistles and boos from the audience for his presentation of Radames in Verdi's "Aida." While the perturbed viewers reacted with calls of "for shame, for shame!", Alagna's understudy Antonello Palombi stepped forth, still in jeans and a shirt. The manager of la Scala, Stephane Lissner, is considering legal steps. In his view, Alagna showed a lack of respect for the audience and the theater.

Der Tenor Robert Alagna (43) hat am Sonntagabend wütend die Bühne der Mailänder Scala verlassen, nachdem er vom Publikum Pfiffe und Buh-Rufe für seine Darbietung des Radames in Verdis "Aida" einstecken musste. Als die verstörten Zuschauer darauf mit "Schande! Schande!"-Rufen reagierten, trat Alagnas Stellvertreter Antonello Palombi auf - zunächst in Jeans und Hemd. Der Intendant der Scala, Stéphane Lissner, überlegt sich rechtliche Schritte. Alagna habe es an Respekt gegenüber dem Publikum und dem Theater fehlen lassen.

Italian - Il Giornale:
The hasty flight of Radames from la Scala ended in front of a plate of pasta at la Prima Fila, the historical rendezvous of the Milanese after-theater crowd. Roberto Alagna is not repenting even one bit for having abandoned the field of battle immediately after the first aria of Aida. The velvet violet on his jacket, the sad eyes, and the French accent give him the appearance of a divo, even with his legs beneath the table: "I will never return again to la Scala. I am not some kind of masochist. All the theaters of the world are trying to get me. In order to play Radames I cancelled a new production at Covent Garden in London..." The next day the tune had changed. "On the 14th Roberto Alagna will return the victor," he announced after having recovered from the trauma of the boos, and he is threatening to immediately bring a case against la Scala if they do not give him free access to the stage.

La precipitosa fuga di Radames dalla Scala finisce davanti a un piatto di pasta as Prima Fila, storico ritrovo del dopo teatro milanese. Roberto Alagna non è pentito neanche un po' di avere abbandonato il campo il della pugna, e subito dopo la prima aria dell'Aida. Il velluto viola della giacca, gli occhi tristi e l'accento francese gli danno l'allure da divo persion con le gambe sotto il tavolo: "Non tornerò mai più alla Scala. Non sono mica un masochista, io. Mi cercano da tutti i teatri del mondo, per fare Radames ho cancellato una produzione nuova al Covent Garden di Londra..." Il giorno dopo cambia musica. "Il 14 Roberto Alagna ritorna vincitor" annuncia dopo aver smaltito il trauma del "buuh" a minaccia addirittura di far causa alla Scala se non gli daranno libero accesso al palco.


As a coworker remarked, "trauma del "buuh" - understandable in any language."

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