Every Other Thing There Is To Say About Decorating For Christmas


All right, I guess everyone is still interested in my Christmas-decorating advice. Again, this even though I used to be a teenaged boy. Your business to let me into it.

The key to Christmas decorating is gathering in the most emotionally important room in the house. Then fill it up to your chest in boxes. This should ideally be a labyrinth, but it’s all right if you can’t, what with the high price of minotaurs these days. The spirit of the season is satisfied if during the decorating process a quick visit to the bathroom requires five minutes of maneuvering and, at some point, someone ducking backwards into a closet. Mind, the spirit is really tickled if in the process of getting out of the way someone falls backwards onto the sofa. Just an advisory.

It’s not really a full decorating job until everyone involved in the decorating is worn out and has turned to shouting at one another over questions like where to hang the stockings and whether the stockings were hung in the correct order. Done fully, Christmas decorating gives everyone the experience of moving to a new home. It’s a precious experience, all the more precious if you’ve been living in the same place for so long you find it a little weird that you aren’t, like, fifteen years older. I mean, you’re supposed to just move from one place to another every couple years, right? It’s weird that you’re not doing that?

But maybe you don’t have the time or you aren’t up for quite that raucous a fight. Decorating doesn’t have to be complicated. The simplest way to decorate is to snatch the magic wand from a Christmas Fairy. Then wave it around CLOCKWISE FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE and point it at a surface. Poof! You’ll have ribbons and baubles and merry stuff like that and be walking in drifts of tinsel up to four feet deep. It’s quick and easy. But it does mean getting involved with the fairy folk. That always starts great and then it turns out there was some fool rule that if you ever said “mustard” three times the night of a lunar eclipse then the devil gets to take everything in your life that’s blue or starts with the letter ‘w’. I know, you’re figuring, how could that really spoil anything? Consider one example: ‘when’ is a thing that starts with the letter ‘w’. Lose ‘when’ and it becomes impossible to establish the time of anything. So you’ll be simultaneously late and early and on time for everything you might do. Every social encounter will be a stressful, confusing melange of apparently unmotivated interactions. But different from how it already is.

So maybe just as well to go about it the hard way. The Christmas tree has been a centerpiece of Christmas decorating in a Christmas tradition that Christmas dates Christmas to — sorry. Something got jammed there. But Christmas trees are great. You can get a natural tree, which you put in a tree stand full of water that spills on the skirt every day. If you’re lucky, it’ll make alarming crackling noises that sound like it’s on fire, or there’s maybe a squirrel still in it, or that your squirrel is on fire. Or you can get an artificial tree, which avoids the problem by coming in a box that’s objectively too small for all the tree parts to fit inside. Nobody knows how they work. But its only major drawback is eventually it wears out, and if there’s a teenaged boy in your life, it might fall into his possession.

Augment this with lights. You can take out the Sure-Lite Never-Die Extremely Heavy Use Commercial Grade incandescent bulbs with the ten-year warranty you bought last year. They are all dead. But with the help of a handy little light-bulb tester you can turn these unworking light strands into unworking light strands you’ve held up a handy little light-bulb tester to. The tester is so obvious that it includes no instructions to tell whether it indicates the bulb is dead or not, and you’ll never figure out how to tell. Or you can go to a modern LED-based strand of light bulbs, if you’d rather have light bulbs that want permission to use location services and send audio recordings of your home back to some corporation that’s bought the Polaroid, Studebaker, Philco, Peek Freans, Coleco Adam, and Uneeda Biscuit trademarks. Don’t worry about whatever that company is up to. The lights will send whether you give permission or not.

Next get to the ornaments. Each ornament is a little time capsule, a chance for you to remember where you were when you got this ornament. You were in the Christmas ornament store, or “ornamentorium” as they call it in the trades. And then read the scrap of last year’s newspaper you wrapped it in to stay secure. Oh, that great restaurant you never get to is closing in two weeks, fifty weeks ago. Probably too late to get their iconic Fish And/Or Chips basket. And then every time you’d hung the ornament in the past despite the terror that you might drop and break it. And then argue about whether it should have been hung somewhere else, like not right in front of the green light. Temporarily, the tree is nothing but green lights. No one knows why we put green lights on a tree that is, basically, green.

Really what you do doesn’t matter. The important thing is to have a process, and be upset that you aren’t following it. Any of us can do that.

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Statistics Saturday: Your 2018 Christmas Songs Schedule


In comparison to that of 2014.

Day Status
December 16 Refusing to read any more essays that want you to have an opinion on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
December 18 Trying to insist the problem is they just don’t write good Christmas songs anymore and it’s not that you imprinted on the songs of your childhood and aren’t taking in new ones.
December 19 Minor-key acoustic cover of “Wonderful Christmastime” makes you exit for the kitchen, open the freezer door, stick your head in, and scream into a bag of frozen peas-and-corn.
December 20 Wishing you still had the emotional baseline that allowed you to be genuinely upset about “Santa Baby”.
December 21 Karaoke night has a group that starts out singing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” but ends up making a fair fraction of the bar actually weepy.
December 22 Entire afternoon spent reading the lyrics to Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Jingle-o The Brownie” and pondering dumb mysteries like why Jingle-o has such a broad and, honestly, unfocused portfolio
December 23 Attempt to fuse an argument about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to the question of whether pigs-in-blankets count as sandwiches somehow backfires and gets you stuck among people trying so hard to insist that Back To The Future II is somehow a “Christmas Movie” that you can’t tell exactly where the put-on is. You scream into a bag of frozen peas-and-corn-and-carrots, the extra carrots doing much to absorb the sonic blast.
December 25 Watch about 65 minutes of the movie Auntie Mame before working out that oh, the version with songs in it is just called Mame and it stars different people, it’s not just that they did some weird and very wrong edit that missed out on songs like “We Need A Little Christmas”.
December 27 Entire day lost to trying to convince people you heard a song titled “Captain Santa Claus And His Reindeer Space Patrol”. You are imagining things.
January 3 Hey, they snubbed “Father Christmas” again, didn’t they? Ray Davies is not going to be happy.

Reference: A History Of Poland, Oscar Halecki.

How To Know It All


Hi. I’m a know-it-all. I’m aware this might surprise you, since most of you faintly like me. You don’t like me enough to help me move a couch into a new apartment, I mean. You like me enough that you don’t particularly want to slug me. If you do it will be from a sense of civic duty. You might feel some pride. But it’s the pride of voting in the boring elections about whether to extend the municipality’s participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement for two years. This is the most socially welcome a know-it-all can hope to be. I decided long ago I wanted to be able to move in both know-it-all and likable-person communities. And now I’d like to share with you, the non-know-it-all, some secrets in how to be a know-it-all.

To set out being a know-it-all might seem intimidating. Even the name suggests you ought to know a bunch of facts about a bunch of things. This common misconception keeps millions of prospective know-it-alls from fledging. There are two things you need to do to be a know-it-all. The first to spot some commonly-agreed upon fact or amusing bit of trivia. Let’s see how you do with this sample. Which of these are commonly-agreed-upon facts or amusing bits of trivia?

  1. There’s a leap year every four years.
  2. North Dakota was the 39th state admitted to the United States.
  3. Stop, drop, and roll.
  4. No spider is ever more than three light-years away from you.

The correct answer is to be already writing a comment about how no, centennial years are not generally leap years in the Gregorian scheme of things. And that’s not even starting on the we-could-make-this-legitimate dispute about whether President President P Presidentson signed North Dakota’s or South Dakota’s statehood papers first. Because what makes a know-it-all is the second thing you need to do. Explain how, if you are being precise, some true thing can be argued in the right lights to be imperfectly true, which is the same as false.

So to know-it-all, recognize statements that nobody feels any need to dispute. Then dispute them. Be polite about it: start out by saying how “You know” or “It’s a common misconception” or “To be precise”. Follow up with anything. It doesn’t have to be correct. Just plunge in with the confidence of a white guy talking on the Internet. Bludgeon your conversational opponent into submission. Eventually, they slug you, and you’ve won.

The biggest danger, besides to your face, is if there’s another know-it-all ready to jump in the conversation. You might need several layers of technical points before your opponent gives up. That’s all right. There’s only a couple topics that know-it-alls really specialize in. One of the great ones is David Rice Atchison, who often hits trivia lists as having been Acting President for one day in 1821. The incoming President wouldn’t take the Oath of Office on a Sunday, and so the office devolved upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. But wait, you say. Yes, the President’s term had expired, but so had the Congress’s, and so Atchison wasn’t the President Pro Tempore of anything. My counter: ah, but until 1890 the Senate customarily chose a President Pro Tempore only when the Vice-President was absent from Washington City or on the final day of a Congressional session. Thus they believed they were choosing a potential successor in case of a vacancy between sessions. Fine, you might answer, but then Atchison never swore the Oath of Office and therefore did not act as President. I retaliate: granted the Oath of Office might be necessary to exercise the powers of the presidency. But Atchison’s accession is covered by his oath as a member of Congress to uphold the laws of the nation. And those laws would include the Succession Act of 1792 then in effect.

At this point, I should explain, we are furious in our debate. There’s people trying to pull us apart. People are emerging from their houses to see what all the excitement is. People shouting about offices “devolving” upon people is pretty exciting stuff even in these troubled times.

You’ve got more nitpicking to deploy. If taking the Oath of Office isn’t necessary to merely be President then the actual President took office at noon on the 4th of March regardless of whether he was sworn in. There was no vacancy for Atchison to fill. I answer. Before the 20th Amendment there was no constitutional specification to when a non-acting President’s term of office began. Stymied? You can ask how Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, could be an Officer of the the United States, which the Constitution specifies as the only people eligible for the succession. And then I point out David Rice Atchison was 13 years old in 1821. Not all of 1821, but in March of it anyway. The question of whether he was President for one day was about the time in 1849 that the new President didn’t want to take the Oath of Office on a Sunday. And then you slug me.

And I win.

I can’t tell you why you’d want to be a know-it-all. All I know it’s the best.

Where Do We Get These Thanksgiving Traditions From?


A great many Thanksgiving traditions have origins. Don’t you? Let’s review.

To Eat Turkey. Of course everyone knows the Pilgrims, who didn’t think they were, didn’t have turkey on the Original Thanksgiving. They were short on food. All they could do is each take a lick and pass along a cobblestone they’d gotten from a street in Leiden. By the time of that first Thanksgiving the stone was getting pretty worn out. And it still tasted like a regression from the grace with God they wanted. Mostly the attendees at that First Thanksgiving had to listen to the raccoons pointing and calling them “turkeys”. And that insult wouldn’t reach full potency until the late 1970s.

But that did give the Pilgrims, unless they were Puritans, an idea. And for the Second Thanksgiving, which we don’t know when it was, they made a deal with the turkeys to take turns, humans eating turkeys and turkeys eating humans. This was lousy for the Puritans, unless they were Separatists, since the turkeys took their turn eating humans first. Oh, how the Pilgrims squawked at that. The turkeys were satisfied though. The second time, for the Third Thanksgiving, which we also don’t know when it was, humans took their turn eating turkeys and called no backsies. That’s all pretty rotten dealing and I’m glad to be having Tofurkey myself. We haven’t double-crossed tofu on anything nearly that major in decades.

To Notice We Have Like Six Half-Empty Bottles Of Store-Brand Windex. This is not in fact a Thanksgiving custom. It is associated with Thanksgiving because of the major house cleanup done then, but this happens at every major house cleanup, like that at Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving, or the one that other time we mean to do, or at Thanksgiving. As such its origins have no place here.

To Watch The Detroit Lions. This dates back to the earliest days of football, back before the sport had decided that having an actual ball was the way to go. Many thought they’d do better using the honor system of everyone agreeing where a ball should go. Back then the Detroit Lions weren’t yet in Michigan, and were still the Fort Wayne Zollner Lions. “Hey,” one of the players said, “Detroit is in Wayne County. Is that named for the same General “Mad Anthony” Wayne that Fort Wayne’s named after?” This sounded plausible, but nobody could look it up, as this was literally over two months before the invention of Wikipedia.

While talking it over they got a bit giggly about where they could use “wayne” in place of some other word. This started out tortured. They’d, say, use it for “when” and say “Wayne are we going to get a football to play?” Or “Wayne [ we’ll ] meet you there!” The Lions went on like this for about three weeks before the locals shared with the Lions their brooms and many shouts of exasperation. This is how the Lions moved to Detroit. Fort Wayne residents promised to keep an eye on the Lions in case they got near town again and vowed never to forget. They forgot and settled the Lions-watching down to two days a year, Thanksgiving and the New Jersey Big Sea Day. Football decided to start using footballs in 1973, to make Monday Night Football games show up better.

To Have Big Arguments With Loved Ones. If I believe what I read in comic strips this is one of the major ways to spend Thanksgiving. But if I believe comic strips then I’d have to accept people are always tweeting Facebooks to their app instead of reading books. Also everyone is talking about whatever everyone was talking about eight weeks ago only less specifically. Anyway I’ve never seen this in the real actual world. Maybe it’s my family. Maybe we don’t happen to feel that emotional charge about the things we differ on. And we’re decent about talking out the things that irritate us. And we’re almost sure the time Grandmom set the table on fire it was an accident. Maybe we’re just better at family than you are? Don’t know. But I have to rate this tradition as “maybe completely made up” and so unworthy of an origin.

To Have A Parade With Giant Balloons. Let me summarize Professor Mi Gyung Kim’s The Imagined Empire: Balloon Enlightenments in Revolutionary Europe to explain this one. It dates back to the Age of Enlightenment, when the idea of giant balloons captured the European imagination. Little did the Europeans suspect they were about to be overrun with giant balloons. None could believe the speed and success of conquest. “They’re so lumbering and slow-moving,” civilians observed, “and you just have to poke them with a stick!” True, but they were also as much as ten feet higher up than anyone realized and so could not be reached by the sticks available to that semi-industrialized age.

The giant balloons had no taste for managing their conquests. They preferred their normal pastimes of drifting into streetlights and being featured in human-interest news pieces about parade setup. So in exchange for an annual victory triumph they let us go about our business the rest of the time. We got off light, which is the way the giant balloons like it too.

While we have many more Thanksgiving customs there are only the top few we’ve lost the receipt for and so can not send back.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Neither the mainstream nor the side Another Blog, Meanwhile indices had any trading activity today. They’ve wanted to have a holiday a while now, but I believe they really like those rare days when trading activity gets reported as “UNCH”. Also I don’t want to promise too much but I think something may be happening after they got stuck in that elevator yesterday. Just saying.

UNCH

Do We Need To Get Out And Give Twitter A Push?


Among the trends: SummerSlam, OpeningCeremony, ClosingCeremony, TheNightOf (?), and LastWeekTonight.
From what was Trending on Twitter late Sunday night. I don’t even mean during the actual closing ceremonies but after that was done even in the Pacific time zone. Also I don’t need to 90s-song-my-life, because I was a nerd in college and grad school in the 90s so I’m just surrounded by this vague wash of They Might Be Giants tunes whether I want them or not. Look, “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is a fine song but it’s all right if I go the occasional day without hearing it and I’m pretty sure the Two People Named John Both Of Potentially Noteworthy Size agree with me.

Honestly, Twitter. At this point even the people who were in the Olympics Opening Ceremony aren’t talking about it. Why are you telling me it’s trending? We’ve moved on, all of us, to discussing how much all the jillions of stories of how unprepared Rio was and how big a fiasco it would be reflected the normal Unprepared Fiasco Warnings that every Olympics gets in the last few weeks, and how much they reflect a racist bias against supposing these non-English-speaking nations might be able to get a big complicated project done. That’s a discussion going almost eight percent better and nearly six percent more productively than you imagine, and we’re not even through with the people giving us statistics about concrete pouring for the Athens and Beijing games compared to the similar times before the London, Atlanta, and Sydney games. OK, we’re through with them, but they’re still droning on, and haven’t noticed.

Expedition Log, Day 1. Mileage: lower than expected


9:30 am. Readied to set out. With the car loaded up, popped back inside to announce to presumed interested public about the start of the journey. Drawn into conflict about whether this should be “Day 1” or “Day 0” away from home on the grounds that a nontrivial part of the day was spent at home. Argument proved surprisingly violent; cats hid under bed, producing discovery that there were cats around.

Total Mileage: 0.

Warnings From The Dream World: Trans-Dimensional Travel Edition


So, yeah, apparently I’m getting warnings about possible troubles while I’m dreaming again and I share this one with you because it seems like it could be of use to pretty near anyone. I’m breaking up what is really one sentence into a couple paragraphs for easier reading. You’ll thank me when you see the wisdom my subconscious is depositing on you.

Suppose that you should happen by some means to fall into an alternate timeline and are in the San Francisco of a much more totalitarian, police-state United States.

If the only way you have of getting home is to make a desperate cross-country trip to New York City, with your only real guidance a crude, placemat-type mat that promises if you head far enough north from San Francisco you’ll meet I-75, which in this abomination of a timeline then goes more or less due east towards Manhattan …

And if you reason that before setting out with precious little of the cash currency for the alternate-United States that it’s worthwhile stopping in to a relentlessly average San Francisco-area shopping mall to take in a movie at the multiplex …

And if you try to pay for the movie using your credit card from this your home timeline and the cashier keeps fingering it curiously and ultimately has to go back to discuss it with the manager and this sets off a long series of negotiations among the multiplex’s staff about the validity of this curious negotiable instrument …

Then you should really cut your losses and just give up on seeing the movie, because the argument with the multiplex staff about it after they’ve swiped your card and whether your payment is in a valid tender or whether it’s even remotely compatible with the credit card swiping devices of this alternate history is not a productive use of your time. Bluntly, even if you argue yourself into the theater, the kerfluffle is just going to attract the local police — as it likely would even in our non-dystopian timeline given how heated it is getting — and their report is just going to call attention to the really terrible secret police, and the movie just is not worth it. Seriously. Let it go. Save the argument about the negotiability of a credit card from another timeline for something worthwhile, like the gas station.

I probably shouldn’t have to explain all this, but believe me, it’s very frustrating especially when you realize that the movie ticket argument is not the one you should be having right then and there.

Peaceful Holiday Seasons


I don’t know if it’s just the Internet circles I move in but I’ve seen a lot less whining this year that Kwanzaa is merely an invented holiday, unlike (say) Columbus Day or Valentine’s Day or Flag Day or the like which are logical necessities for the universe to exist and which would be independently created by any society capable of developing a calendar. I’m glad for that. Whining about holidays is beneath people.

But I noticed Ray Billingsley’s comic strip Curtis hasn’t so far started its normal Kwanzaa storyline where the strip tries telling some kind of fable instead of its usual business. He was sick this year and maybe didn’t have the energy for it. But is it possible that the lack of a Kwanzaa fable for the end of the year’s Curtis comics has altered the national conversation about holidays to a much more pleasant, less annoying tone?

No, of course not. I have trouble believing Curtis drives the conversation on the Curtis comic strip fan sites, much less the world at large. But these two things happened so obviously there’s some link.