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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Monday, December 31, 2007

Good news, bad news

My mother turned 96 in October. Here she is in her backyard just before her 95th birthday last year. She's been bedridden since February after repeated episodes of transient ischemia. Her slow decline has colored my experience this year. We taught our Healthy Relationships course together in January, but, as we had no snow to speak of last season, biking in west Texas became the first event of the year and where Jane switched to a Volae recumbent to be able to continue riding in the face of arthritic changes. The major bike trip for the year was riding in Provence in May with a couple of old friends. It began ideally and the first week was capped by climbing the fabled Mt Ventoux. Unfortunately, that also turned out to be the climax of the trip, because the next day I fractured my left femur in what should have been only a minor fall on some gravel. The resulting surgery, hospitalization, and "medical repatriation" both taxed Jane's patience and demonstrated the importance of checking that little box labeled "travel insurance" when booking your tickets. When we got back I was on crutches while we taught our course again in the summer session. As you can imagine, I was a little tentative getting back on two wheels toward the middle of July, but was riding well enough to bike with club members again for the August tour of western Wisconsin. Then at the end of the month I was asked to teach philosophy courses again aboard the USS Cole during September and October. The ship was deployed off Scotland and England after crossing the Atlantic from Norfolk VA. Space is at a premium on destroyers, but I had a large proportion of excellent students among the crewmembers and officers in my classes. It's been a decade since we had December snow, but we got it on the 1st this year and additional storms have meant steady cross country ski training. After xmas in Tucson hiking with friends, we were both looking forward to a full season. That outlook was canceled for me while cross country ski training yesterday, in what surely is the last bad news in this year so fraught with political and social distress: I crashed on a descent, causing several small non-displaced fractures to my left tibia and fibula. Crutches again, for at least a month. I know, I know. Don't say it. Next year has to be better, right? Instead of another shot of me in a cast I'm closing with this photo of moonrise at Cape Sounion in Greece, silhouetting the temple of Poseidon...jb
















































































Friday, December 14, 2007

`Tis the season...

Ever wonder why xmas is celebrated on December 25th? It's because that date began the weeklong events of Saturnalia, the Roman yearend festival. That's right. Roman, as in ancient Rome. When xtianity began to flourish in the 4th c. CE the celebration of Jesus' birth was put on the festival day still familiar to the peoples of Europe. If you want make something popular, link it to what's already so. It's still a common advertising practice. Until recently, however, xmas was not a significant date on the xtian calendar. In his detailed 17th c. diary, for example, Samuel Pepy's does not even mention annual activities on December 25th. By "recently," of course, I mean the 19th century. It was in the 1800s that commercial life in the cities began to be the standard, in America as in Europe. Then the gift-giving associated with December 25th appeared as an opportunity for profit. Exchanging cards and presents became popular and around this popularity images ("Santa Claus," borrowed from the German and Dutch "Sankt Nicholas") and mythology (the Bethlehem story) rapidly accumulated. So rants about "losing the true meaning of Christmas" are entirely wrong. "Christmas" as we know it originated as a commercial holiday. To make this even clearer, here's why Thanksgiving is on the 4th Thursday in November: in 1939 President Roosevelt proposed, and Congress agreed, that making it a federal holiday four weeks before xmas would create a lucrative shopping-period for U.S. retailers. And so it has become, children. It's not by chance that the majority of family conflict is now concentrated in the last month of the year...