Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Could someone turn on a light, it's really dark outside.

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.

Also a lunar eclipse will occur on the shortest day of the year for the first time since 1638.

Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

It is therefore a good time to do things you wouldn't want the sun to hear about. The Pagans, for example, wisely celebrate their Yule holiday on the Winter Solstice.

Ancient peoples believed that because daylight was waning, it might go away forever, so they lit huge bonfires to tempt the sun to come back. The tradition of decorating our houses and our trees with lights at this time of year is passed down from those ancient bonfires.

In Ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated with the festival of Saturnalia,

during which all business transactions and even war were suspended, and slaves were waited upon by their masters.

Hey, Get Naked, Paint Yourself Blue and Dance around the Fir Tree. It's party time!!!

December 21, 1932 -
The movie musical Flying Down to Rio premiered on this date.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, although minor players in the film, danced in their first joint movie together

December 21, 1937 -
The first feature-length color & sound cartoon Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered on this date.

The animation took over two years and a then astronomical $1.5 million to create. Disney had to mortgage his house to pay for the film's production.

December 21, 1940 -
Another classic Porky Pig cartoon, The Timid Toreador, premiered on this date.

Hot?! Who's afraid of hot?

December 21, 1959 -
The Orpheus legend set in Rio de Janeiro, Black Orpheus, premiered in the US on this date.

Another great thing in this classic of world cinema is the fabulous music by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Today in History -
The pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on December 21, 1620 (Their stepping ashore onto a large rock that later became known as the Plymouth Rock probably is a myth .) Their boat was the Mayflower.

They wore black and white clothes with big shiny buckles.

The crew of the ship did not have enough beer to get to Virginia and back to England so they dropped the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to preserve their beer stock.

December 21, 1914 -
The first feature-length silent film comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance, was released on this date.

Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Mack Swain appeared in this six-reel, feature-length comedy.

December 21, 1945 -
World War II General George Patton dies in a car accident at Heidelberg, Germany on this date.

Patton was investigating the theft of Nazi gold by US Army men at the time.

December 21, 1970 -
Paranoid, alcoholic President Nixon meets with prescription drug addict Elvis Presley at the White House to discuss The King's becoming a special drug enforcement agent.

He presents Nixon with a pistol, and receives a special DEA badge in return.

December 21, 2012 -
The Mayan "long count" calendar is based on great cycles of 5125 years, the current cycle ending on this day in 2012.

Endings of cycles are punctuated by cataclysmic singularities on a deluge scale, so be prepared. This is the end of time!

Remember to mark the date in your calendar.

Josif Djugashvili was born in the Gori District of Tiflis Province in Georgia, Imperial Russia, on December 21, 1879 (or December 18th or the 22nd. When you're an evil bastard dictator, you get to choose your own birthday).

His father was a drunken and often unemployed cobbler, illiterate, and like Josif’s mother, Ekaterina, had only been emancipated from serfdom in 1864. Mr. Djugashvili was a violent man, and often beat little Josif, whose left arm was permanently injured in a childhood "accident." Josif was also afflicted by small pox at the age of five, and this left his face a crosshatching of pockmarks.

To say that the cobbler's son had no shoes would be the grossest of understatements.

At the Gori Elementary School, little Joey Djugashvili was unexceptional in terms of grade point average, aptitude, and physical education. His self-esteem was in tatters. He was a moody, sullen boy, but even in the benighted educational environment of nineteenth century Imperial Russia, his teachers knew that beneath his brooding exterior there beat the heart of a wounded frightened child.

"Joey only needed a little encouragement," one teacher recalled in an interview published shortly before her disappearance. "He’d never speak up in class, but if you took the time to talk to him one-on-one he’d blossom like a flower."

Another teacher recalled Djugashvili’s difficult home life. "His parents never came to our Meet the Faculty suppers," the pedagogue reflected from his cell not long before his execution. "So I visited his home on several occasions. His mother was not very affectionate, but his father was a brute and a tyrant and would only address him as 'dumb-ass.' You knew even then that the cards were stacked against the poor kid."

His peers taunted him mercilessly at school, and his high school class voted him "most likely to die alone and unloved." But one cannot help but be startled by the Djugashvili staring out from the photograph in his high school yearbook. The overall look is haunted, but even then there could be seen the galvanization of will, the hardening of determination, that in a few short years the world would learn to know and fear as Josif Stalin.

One can only feel pity for this troubled soul, this poor, sweet child who never wanted anything more than a little love and attention. Even as one watches the same old familiar footage of a laughing Stalin quaffing a martini while marching over a path paved with human skulls, even then if one looks closely one can see the eyes of the child he once was: frightened, sad, and alone.

Was Little Joe truly a wellspring of bloody malevolence, or was he perhaps a victim himself, a frightened and insecure little boy who wanted nothing more than a little approval and a few kind words? It’s easy to hold him responsible for the thirty to forty-five million deaths that occurred on his watch, but was it really all his fault? Can we not properly lay some, if not all, of the responsibility for the sins of the son on the deeds of the father?

I hope that parents everywhere will give their children a little extra love and attention this holiday season, because the world needs another little Joe like I need a samovar up my ass.

3 more shopping days until Christmas, 2 more shopping days until Festivus (Make sure you get your an unadorned aluminum pole before they run out.)

And so it goes.

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