A Visit from Saint Nicholas

(In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)

by James Thurber, The New Yorker, December 24, 1927

The New Yorker, Dec. 24, 1927. Andre de Schaub.

The New Yorker, Dec. 24, 1927. Andre de Schaub.

It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

“Father,” the children said.

There was no answer. He’s there, all right, they thought.

“Father,” they said, and banged on their beds.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said.

“Go to sleep,” said mamma.

“We can’t sleep,” said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.

“Can you sleep?” asked the children.

“No,” I said.

“You ought to sleep.”

“I know. I ought to sleep.”

“Can we have some sugarplums?”

“You can’t have any sugarplums,” said mamma.

“We just asked you.”

There was a long silence. I could hear the children moving again.

New-Yorker-Cartoon 2

 

“Is Saint Nicholas asleep?” asked the children.

“No,” mamma said. “Be quiet.”

“What the hell would he be asleep tonight for?” I asked.

“He might be,” the children said.

“He isn’t,” I said.

“Let’s try to sleep,” said mamma.

The house became quiet once more. I could hear the rustling noises the children made when they moved in their beds.

Out on the lawn a clatter arose. I got out of bed and went to the window. I opened the shutters; then I threw up the sash. The moon shone on the snow. The moon gave the lustre of mid-day to objects in the snow. There was a miniature sleigh in the snow, and eight tiny reindeer. A little man was driving them. He was lively and quick. He whistled and shouted at the reindeer and called them by their names. Their names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.

He told them to dash away to the top of the porch, and then he told them to dash away to the top of the wall. They did. The sleigh was full of toys.

“Who is it?” mamma asked.

“Some guy,” I said. “A little guy.”

new yorker santa

I pulled my head in out of the window and listened. I heard the reindeer on the roof. I could hear their hoofs pawing and prancing on the roof. “Shut the window,” said mamma. I stood still and listened.

“What do you hear?”

“Reindeer,” I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mamma sat up in the bed and looked at me.

“How would they get on the roof?” mamma asked.

“They fly.”

“Get into bed. You’ll catch cold.”

Mamma lay down in bed. I didn’t get into bed. I kept walking around.

“What do you mean, they fly?” asked mamma.

“Just fly is all.”

Mamma turned away toward the wall. She didn’t say anything.

I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler’s pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn’t say anything.

He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, “Merry Christmas and good night.” I went back to bed.

new yorker donald_reilly

 

“What was it?” asked mamma. “Saint Nicholas?” She smiled.

“Yeah,” I said.

She sighed and turned in the bed.

“I saw him,” I said.

“Sure.”

“I did see him.”

“Sure you saw him.” She turned farther toward the wall.

“Father,” said the children.

“There you go,” mamma said. “You and your flying reindeer.”

“Go to sleep,” I said.

“Can we see Saint Nicholas when he comes?” the children asked.

“You got to be asleep,” I said. “You got to be asleep when he comes. You can’t see him unless you’re unconscious.”

“Father knows,” mamma said.

I pulled the covers over my mouth. It was warm under the covers. As I went to sleep I wondered if mamma was right.

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Sharpening a pencil

SENSE OF STYLE by Steven Pinker

Chapter 1. Good Writing: Those skills may have not come from style books, but they must have come from somewhere. That somewhere is the writing of other writers. Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash.

(Rolls off my tongue) vertiginous enigma of existence and death

The authors also share an attitude: They do not hide the passion and relish that drive them to tell us about their subjects. They write as if they have something important to say. But no, that doesn’t capture it. They write as if they have something important to show. And that, we shall see, is a key ingredient in the sense of style.

James Thurber for The New Yorker via quavid.wordpress

James Thurber for The New Yorker via quavid.wordpress

The (Thurber’s) poetic reference is to Tennyson’s “The Brook”:

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

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Note: There is a Thurber-esque drawing on the book cover of a little man holding an over-sized fountain pen who is underlining “21st century” and adding an exclamation point. Hence, my idea to add a Thurber cartoon; “I come from haunts of coot and hern” clue via Language Log.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

 

The documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times” by Andrew Rossi chronicles a year at the newspaper from behind the Media desk. The year is 2010, just after the collapse of the newspaper print advertising market. Newspapers across the country are beginning to fold. The NYT is in the process of laying-off 100 people.

Jeff Jarvis (Author, What Would Google Do?) and Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation set the stage. Jarvis declares firmly the old newspaper model is dead but news is not dying, there are just many cheaper ways of disseminating it. Vanden Heuvel worries that it is a dangerous moment for journalism, but newsrooms have the benefit of journalists with accumulated experience. Jarvis asks if it’s too late for these institutions to adapt to new media.

FOR PULSE: Film Still. David Carr in PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

FOR PULSE: Film Still. David Carr in PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Brian Stetler is a techno-savvy NYT Media reporter. He started a blog covering television news in 2004 as a freshman in college. He went to work for the NYT two months after he graduated. David Carr is an old-school media reporter with a weekly column. Carr jokingly calls Stetler a “machine” put on this earth to destroy him. Stetler represents the NYT’s adaptation to the digital age.

 It is almost unbelievable that Rossi happened to be filming Stetler and Media editor Bruce Headlam as the story of the initial WikiLeak’s YouTube release of classified Dept. of Defense (Afghan theater) video develops and that Rossi had access to Stetler as he was interviewing his source, WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

The NYT made a bold decision in allowing Rossi such unprecedented access to its inner workings at a time when new and successful media business models were emerging at a rapid pace. Perhaps the collaboration between Rossi and the Media dept. allowed the NYT to view the media industry as a whole in a more objective light.

It is through Carr that we see the NYT embracing new technology. To him, Steve Jobs invented the iPad solely to keep “mainstream media” afloat. We see Carr as a passionate advocate for the strength of NYT news-gathering assets and its full engagement in the multi-media revolution. Without main-stream media, news-repackagers like Gawker, or news-aggregators like Newser, couldn’t exist.

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NOTE TO SELF: Watch this documentary again (on Netflix) and rework the closing.

 

 

 

What would David Carr say?

We will never know what David Carr would have written about last week’s announced 21st Century Fox and National Geographic Society joint venture in his New York Times The Media Equation weekly column. I’d like to think Carr would wait a couple of months before pronouncing the venture catastrophic because Rubert Murdoch is the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox. Murdoch is an admitted climate-change denying skeptic who might be seen as a conflicted symbol of NGS’s mission to educate through science and exploration.  

image via proof.nationalgeographic.com

image via proof.nationalgeographic.com

It is implausible to me that Carr would overlook how the collaboration might benefit National Geographic Society more so than 21st Century Fox, which already has the world’s premier portfolio of cable, broadcast, film, pay TV and satellite assets. The Media Equation was, after all, a column focused on the intersection of media and technology. 

Emily Steel of NYT’s Media section was fairly even-handed in her Sept 9th report on the joint venture. Below are my selected excerpts from her article in support of my opinion that Rupert Murdoch will just leave National Geographic magazine the hell alone instead of turning it into some sort of cheap porno rag. 

The Britannic, a massive British steamer and sister ship to the Titanic, launches from Belfast Harbor in 1914. The Britannic sank two years later after encountering a German mine field in the Mediterranean sea. National Geographic Creative - no photo credit given.

The Britannic, a massive British steamer and sister ship to the Titanic, launches from Belfast Harbor in 1914. The Britannic sank two years later after encountering a German mine field in the Mediterranean sea. National Geographic Creative – no photo credit given.

In response to the concern about conflicting outlooks, executives underscored that the agreement builds upon an 18-year partnership between the two groups for National Geographic Channels, a moneymaking venture of domestic and international cable TV channels available in more than 500 million homes in 171 countries. …

Mr. Knell said that during that time, Fox had not exerted “any sort of political or editorial interference.” …

Fox will own 73 percent of the new venture, called National Geographic Partners, and the National Geographic Society will own 27 percent. The two owners will have equal representation on the board and share governance. …

The first successful aerial color photograph—which depicted the Statue of Liberty—used the Finlay process, 1931. PHOTOGRAPH BY MELVILLE B. GROSVENOR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

The first successful aerial color photograph—which depicted the Statue of Liberty—used the Finlay process, 1931.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MELVILLE B. GROSVENOR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

The deal is one of the first major developments at Fox since James Murdoch was named chief executive in June. He said that the deal had been in the works for a number of months and that it was consistent with his strategy to focus the business “around big brands, building platforms around those brands, and making sure those brands matter in an increasingly competitive and digital environment.” …

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 NOTE: Carr might say the joint venture couldn’t be any worse than what Sam Zell did to the Chicago Tribune (see Page One: Inside the New York Times.

 

Abercrombie: Algerian Alley

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Scrolling down a cobblestone alley to the bottom of the page where a white-thobed Algerian is intentionally but unknowingly the focal point of Thomas J. Abercrombie’s photo composition.

Another time, while traveling through Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, Mr Abercrombie’s sport-utility vehicle broke down, forcing him to repair the radiator hose with items from his first-aid kit and patch another leak with a poultice of camel dung and barley paste.

A passageway in Algeria. Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic Creative (year unknown)

A passageway in Algeria. Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic Creative (year unknown)

Here at the bottom of the page, after scrolling down a cobblestone alley, we find Mr Abercrombie as a senior photographer and writer for National Geographic magazine, who had traveled to all seven continents in a career spanning over 40 years, three decades of which were spent as the magazine’s Middle Eastern expert covering Morocco to Afghanistan, where he once slipped off his yak and narrowly escaped plunging into a 1,000-foot chasm.

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