Sherman’s Lagoon (AMS) on the demise of the Christmas Newsletter. Yesterday, I talked about the fables that passed as history in ancient times, but those dubious paeans to powerful leaders had nothing on the self-congratulatory fiction that once poured forth in the form of Christmas Newsletters. Their chief attraction was how much fun it was for satirists to come up with comical, upbeat ways to explain Junior flunking out of college and Dad heading out to Dannemora.
I sent out my last one in 2005, mostly out of habit, since, like Sherman and Megan, I had nothing in particular to report. But it wasn’t so much that nothing had happened. It was that, by then, I’d been on Facebook or some remnant of Usenet for a decade or so and had been piping out my news as it happened. By December, anyone who gave a damn what I was up to already knew.
(Insert your own joke about how many people that probably was.)
Christmas Newsletters fall into an odd gap, because, back when we used to go bowling together or just join our friends to hang out, we knew what was happening in the neighborhood, and the function of the newsletters was to update us on old college friends and shipmates and people scattered around the globe.
Now that we’re hyperconnected online, we know more about virtual friends 2,000 miles away than we do about that guy we wave to as we pull out of the driveway. I joke that the only people I know in three dimensions are other dog park people, but there you have it.
Bizarro (KFS) jokes about bad kids getting coal in their stockings, but, assuming anyone had ever been so cold-hearted in the first place, I don’t know where a hateful parent would even find coal these days.
No problem back in 1936, when JR Williams drew this cartoon of a young boy facing a harsh chore at the end of an already-long day. By the time I was snowman-making age, nearly everyone had converted to oil or gas furnaces, but there was still enough random coal around the edge of the house to find eyes, a nose and three buttons, just from spillage as trucks backed up and dumped their load down the coal chute into the basement.
Which spared poor lads like this from having to haul it down there themselves.
Corn cob pipes and old top hats are also in short supply these days, but not as hard to find as coal.
Jeff Stahler (AMS) notes that there are a lot of words which come up this time of year that are also rare to the point of extinction, but this one is on parents, because if you read to your children regularly — and not just from those cheesy, sing-song, easy-reading books but real stories — they’ll build a prodigious vocabulary one word at a time.
One of the few things I did right was to read to my boys every night at bedtime, but, even earlier, I learned that a very small infant could be comforted by a parent’s voice, and I’d read whatever I was reading out loud while holding the baby, which led to a moment when eldest was hospitalized at 7 months and a nurse came by in the middle of the night to find me holding him and reading aloud.
“How sweet!” she said, and asked what I was reading him. I flipped the book so she could see: Dostoevsky’s “The Possessed.”
Oh well. I was already married anyway.
Speaking of obsolete terminology, little Sedgewick is normally the butt of jokes at Monty (AMS), but the lad is right this time, though I guess his friends grew up on cheesy, sing-song easy reading books rather than anything to pique their curiosity and sense of interest.
Nobody ever read them that one, but, then again, nobody ever had to.
On the topic of books that people should read, Steve Brodner has a full-page salute to Kurt Vonnegut on the back of the NYTimes Book Review today on what would have been Vonnegut’s 100th birthday. This is a pretty lo-res version, but much of the piece focuses on Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut’s masterpiece, which was based on his having been a POW in Dresden when it was firebombed.
The book is, alas, still relevant and perhaps moreso. I was producing a weekly news-for-kids feature in 2005 on the anniversary of the bombings and posted this story about how Dresden’s citizens sent a message to the rising tide of hatemongers who were marking the day for all the wrong reasons: “This City is Sick of Nazis.”
Teach your children well, even when — especially when — the lessons are not entirely cheerful.
You can’t make the world a cheerful place simply by insisting that it is.
Case in point:
Juxtaposition of the Day
A pair of perceptive comments from north of the border about the current crop of not-so-nice folks.
The Montreal Gazette spiked Aislin’s dig at Musk and his henchmen, but he published it — appropriately enough — on his Twitter Page. It’s interesting, and depressing, to see how many people agreed with his editors that it was too much, that noone should compare anything to the Holocaust.
Makes you wonder how history might be different if more people had spoken up when the Reich was just restricting bicycles.
I particularly like the broken glasses in MacKinnon’s piece, and not just because glasses that shatter like that, and fedoras with press cards in them, are vestiges of the last era in which authoritarians rose to global power.
It’s also a symbol of our inability to see clearly without the aid of good journalists, hence the move to silence them.
Under pressure, Musk has semi-relented and restored the banned journalists, on condition that they delete the tweets that never in fact gave away his location, but simply reported on his banning of dissenting voices.
He is, thereby, managing to make himself look more paranoid and repressive than any of his critics, but, then again, the audience he plays to won’t question it.
After all, the boots are not actually mounting the staircase yet. They’re still just milling about on the street outside.