Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas, Evening

Harvest Moon

Who would have thought that the rain would hold off,
But the storm clouds are holding their breath,
Together we walk past the puddles in the street
And we're ready to fall off the edge

The harvest moon is rising on a chilly afternoon,
And your being here is scaring me to death

I can't believe the good luck that we've had,
We've had nothing to fear but the cold
And holding you tight makes me tremble in the night
I'm not ready to watch as you go

The harvest moon is rising on a chilly afternoon
And your being here is scaring me to death

Maybe it's only the wine or the beer,
But the sound of your laughter is pulling me near,
It's the only voice left that I can still hear,
It's delightful, and it's getting very weird

I have your picture, I have your name,
And now you have the key to my heart,
I know when I see you, you will give me a smile,
And I know that it's only a start

The harvest moon is rising on a chilly afternoon,
And your loving me is scaring me to death

Many-Troubled Heart

In the green light of the river,
In the misty mountain wind
That blows down in late November,
I think that's where I'd begin

If I tried to tell the story
Of my many-troubled heart
And my hopes that you might heal me,
I know just where I might start

Would you hold me in the darkness
When you think that you should go,
Would you keep me warm in spite of
What you couldn't ever know?

And I know I don't deserve it
But I'm trying to be cool,
If I try to make you happy
Would you make me happy too?

Would you stay with me this evening
If the sky should start to snow,
Would you keep me warm in spite of
What you couldn't ever know?

The Den

Come into the den and sleep
Beneath the TV set with me,
Though I haven't slept in there in years,
I want to go back there with you
And show you what I've missed,
And what you've been missing too

Friday night we'll stay awake,
We'll talk, and as we stay up late
We will feel as though we're kids again,
And we won't notice when we sleep
What shows that we have missed,
And who cares in all this heat?

Little Window

The lights are on a million feet beneath our wings,
All shining like a Christmas box of colors;
The headlights on the interstate, the stoplight greens,
Your hand in mine, my blood is beating faster

And everything is slower on the city streets,
Before we touch the ground with one another;
The Christmas bulbs are dancing on the midnight sea,
The lights are bobbing red and blue together

Oh, you, say you see the pretty things
Outside your little window,
Oh do say you see the pretty sights
That I have seen a thousand times before

The cars are circling miles around in endless streams,
Reflecting a continuum of color;
Your glove is warm like something from a winter's dream,
We're breathing in a breathless sea of wonder

Oh, you, say you see the pretty things
Outside your little window,
Oh do say you see the pretty sights
That I have dreamed a thousand times before

Oh, please, tell me you can see the lights
Outside our little window,
Oh do tell me what you're seeing now
So I can see it too.

Not a Word

I don't know what you're thinking
And you haven't said a word;
I think we're having fun but
If you haven't said a word
I can't be sure if you are happy
Or you'd rather be alone,
Now my pulse is pounding out and
I don't want to take you home,
But you're going to have to leave me here tonight
And I only hope tomorrow everything will be alright

I think it's much too quiet
But I haven't said a word;
I haven't even whispered
Since you haven't said a word,
And I don't want to push you
If you'd rather be alone,
But my brain is breaking down and
Now I feel so alone,
And you said you'll have to leave me here tonight,
And tomorrow and the next night, and the next one after that,
And I only hope the next time everything will be alright


There's something in my cup
And I can't say I like it much,
But for some strange reason
That I can't explain,
I drink it every year and I regret it every time;
They call it a tradition, but I see a wasted night

There's nothing on my mind
Because there's nothing in my eyes,
And for some strange reason
That I've come to accept,
I cannot feel the emptiness that's growing in my head;
I can't remember why I didn't want to go to bed

I can't imagine anything
Except what's in my cup
I drink it slowly
Until I've had enough

What a Lovely Dream

I had a dream
That I was lost in San Francisco city lights,
Up all night
Watching Charlie Chaplin films on silent nights,
City Lights,
With a smile across my face I dreamed a happy dream,
What a lovely dream it would have been with you

I closed my eyes
And still they followed me like summer fire flies,
And they took flight
Across the harbor as the stars fell from the sky,
Such great heights,
Reflections danced upon the bridge and then I had a thought,
What a lovely dream it would have been with you

Christmas, Evening

At the end of the evening when the party is done,
Will you cry for the joy
Or just look forward to the next one?

When the sun's going down, and the windows are red,
Once the music is stilled
Will you hear what I have said?

Because the Lord is not returning for another billion years,
And the world will keep on spinning while you're fearing all your fears
Until there's nothing left to fear for and the sun will just explode
And there'll be nothing left of anything but ash and melted snow

If you're lying with me and you would like to be saved,
Well, then we should sleep in
And dream our troubles all away,

At the end of the day, there will still be the lights
On the rooftops and the lampposts
To illuminate the nights,

When you're flying in an airplane over city streets and see
All the wonders of the world are lit up like Christmas Eve,
You can rest upon your pillow and be sure that you won't fall,
When the distance takes the buildings, we'll be seven miles tall

'Till the end of our days, until the end of the night,
In the light of this love,
I really think that we'll be alright.

Happy New Year

Happy new year, it's the last one you'll remember,
Just like last year, and the ones that came before;
Time is almost up
So hold on tight and say good night,
When you wake up you'll be older,
You'll be new

Happy new year, it's the last one you'll remember,
You can be whatever you would like to be;
The clock is winding down
And you're as free as free is free,
When you wake up you'll be no one,
You'll be you

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sid Meier's Civilization V

After many years of trying, I believe it is safe to say that I am just not put together properly for strategy games.  It's not that I'm a poor strategist.  Or maybe it is.  Really, I don't know what it is.  All I know is that without cheat codes, I might never have seen the end of just about any campaign mode I've come across.  Strategy games that I participate in have a way of ending in tears, as my carefully polished Tier One swordsmen are trampled under the wings of rampaging zombie-dragons.  This scenario assumes, of course, that my opponent is sadistic enough to upgrade that far: my childlike defenses can usually be undone by much less.

Yet I continue to play them; worse, I continue to love them.  There are few things that are more satisfying to me than assembling a well-run base: building your impenetrable wall of turrets, researching all the shiniest technologies, and marching your orderly squadrons out to face their destinies at the appointed time.  And there are few things more horribly frustrating than having the whole thing turned upside down when your opponent sneaks a unit in, wrecks your whole resource-gathering apparatus, and comes charging in on wings of fiery death before you have time to pump out more than a few defenders.

So it's really very easy to understand why I got turned on to Civilization IV a while back.  Unlike the strategy games I was used to, it was turn-based, so I could afford to turn my head away every once in a while.  It also featured a semi-quasi-almost realistic simulation of world history, brimming with historical people, historical monuments, and a wealth of edifying historical quotes delivered by Leonard Nimoy.  Most importantly, it could be set to a difficulty level low enough for me to play the way I wanted to: I could avoid fighting wars as long as I wanted and focus on the simple sandbox joys of building, building, building. 

And now history has granted me Civilization V, a reinvention of the series with all the beautiful elements that made me love its predecessor.  Nimoy's out, but Morgan Sheppard is in, dispensing an even greater array poetry, scripture, and classic prose in a suitably wizened baritone.  The World Wonders are more varied, with suitably epic newcomers like the Brandenburg Gate and the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing.  There are even features that seem expressly designed to tickle my nerd bones: every Civilization's leader actually speaks aloud in his or her native language.  So much do I love this game's presentation, I'd be sorely tempted to give it perfect marks on that basis alone.

I also find the gameplay to be a more relaxing, enjoyable experience than in Civ IV.  I developed some bad habits in that game, such as restarting whenever I failed to claim a holy city or major monument, and tedious behaviors like that have a way of killing some of the fun.  Civ V no longer has holy cities, and the process of building monuments is more user-friendly; besides, their sheer number is solace enough when someone beats you to constructing a few. It's nice to concentrate on some of the more creative aspects of civilization building, rather than engage in neurotic races to try and found Hinduism in New York City, a thousand years ahead of schedule.

The graphics are quite beautiful; almost too beautiful, actually.  I suspect it operates in the upper regions of my graphics card's ability to cope, and I get some pretty heavy slowdown on large maps, especially late in the game.  But there's lots of pretty animations, and the transition from various elevations and perspectives is smooth.  As long as I can keep the laptop from exploding, a little chugging hardly dims what is otherwise a lovely view.

Much as I love this new Civ, I feel like I don't really understand it yet.  The basics all seem to be there, and I've picked up on some of the more obvious changes and integrated them into my playing style.  But my sloppy performances at easy difficulty levels leads me to believe there are subtler changes that I have not mastered.  I'd be lying if I said I'd "mastered" Civ IV, but this really is a beast of a different color, and my bewilderment seems to hint at a really profound alteration of the principles at stake.  Then again, I am quite easily bewildered, so it may be just a trick of all the shiny new buttons.  But I'm willing to give Civilization the benefit of the doubt.

If there's one complaint I have to make, it must be in relation to the game's diplomacy system.  I had it all worked out to my satisfaction in Civ IV, but in Civ V it seems as though half of the time my actions have nothing to do with the AI players' responses.  When you can go three hundred years without snubbing or even looking askance at someone and still wind up on their shit list, it sort of invalidates the whole concept of diplomacy.  Is that really the message we want to be sending to the children?

The Civilization series is perhaps the paragon of the "timesink" as a gameplay model: a methodically played game can last the better part of a day (or night), and the hours have a way of slipping quietly past as you routinely tell yourself "just one more turn..." until, finally, you find yourself bleary eyed at three in the morning.  There may be something a little surreptitious about this model of game design (outsiders call it "addiction," but isn't that a loaded word?), but its magnetism is undeniable.  More than just a strategy game, it's like an intelligently managed, interactive ant farm: you know exactly what the little guys are going to do next, and you want to take them there right away.  If it takes a few hours of my life away, I consider them well paid for.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day Revealed!

We Americans have a tendency to go all-in on our holidays, single-mindedly hyping their approach, feasting ourselves into a stupor, and spending several subsequent days in a state of recovery.  Put too many celebrations too close together, and you're liable to send the average American into an acute state of holiday toxicity.  And so it was, with the abnormal proliferation of holidays in the waning days of the year, that Americans at last recognized their limits, and drew a line in the sand.  Unlike the bulk of the Anglophone world, we do not celebrate Boxing Day; indeed, we scarcely know what it is.  As a seeker of truth, I find these conditions unacceptable.  After consulting a series of historical, sociological, and alchemical texts, I have put together a brief history of Boxing Day, the sort of frank, accurate description you might get if you would just ask a Canadian "what's up with Boxing Day?"  Probably even better!

Boxing Day occurs on December 26th, which is pretty risky business: as the desperate me-too! status of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa attest, Christmas will suffer no serious competition.  Nevertheless, Boxing Day has a long and rich tradition of playing second fiddle, dating back to the Middle Ages.  In those days it was known as the Feast of St. Stephen, and it still is if you're that special kind of Catholic who knows when all the Feast Days are.  St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, having been stoned to death by an angry mob led by Saul of Tarsus, who would later convert to Christianity and become known as St. Paul.  How Sts. Stephen and Paul get along in heaven is not presently known, but one can safely assume they attend different holiday parties.

St. Stephen carries the title of protomartyr, which sounds very impressive until you remember that the first person to actually die in the name of the faith was Jesus himself, who of course outranks Stephen according to every conceivable metric.  And of course, while stoning is undoubtedly an unpleasant way to go, it is perhaps a step or two in wrenching agony and terror from crucifixion.  Christian hagiography is chock full of creative tortures and executions: upside-down crucifixions, flayings, spiked wheels, and even a burning, brazen bull.  Compared to these, stoning seems almost humane.  Almost.

Nevertheless, for centuries Christians gave props to Stephen for having the stones, as it were, to be the first man to follow Christ down the path of death for the cause of God, and decided that he should likewise follow Jesus in perpetuity.  That they chose to celebrate his martyrdom on the day after the Savior's birth, rather than the day after his death, may not make a whole lot of sense on the surface.  Presumably it all comes together after a couple of egg nogs.  In any event, St. Stephen is still given his due in countries such as Ireland, Catalonia, and Hungary; even Americans are vaguely aware of his feast day, at least those who know the lyrics to "Good King Wenceslas."  Sadly, most Americans cannot even bother to remember the words of their own national anthem, and so Stephen's last shot at trivial relevance in American culture is a pathetic misfire.

Today, St. Stephen's Day is celebrated in Britain, Canada, Australia, and other commonwealth lands as Boxing Day.  The Christological elements of Christmas were long ago usurped by commercial interests, and so Stephen dutifully follows Christ once more: the "boxes" are filled with material goods, and Boxing Day is "celebrated" by relentless, bloodthirsty consumerism.  In effect, Boxing Day is a parasitic interloper, a Black Friday variant that has replaced St. Stephen in the hearts of an increasingly irreligious public.  Much as the early Christians commandeered pagan feasts to mark their own liturgical calendars, capitalism has taken hold of Christianity's most sacred days and used them to sell appliances and consumer electronics.  Stephen, for his part, is probably just happy that the 26th of December is still marked off at all.

This year, however, Boxing Day does NOT fall on December 26th.  Because Christmas and Boxing Day are both bank holidays, their observation is shifted when either should fall on a weekend.  With Christmas on a Saturday this year, the corresponding bank holiday will be tomorrow, the 27th.  Likewise, Boxing Day will be held on the 28th.  The 26th will presumably be known to most people simply as "Sunday."

Next year, Stephen.  Next year...