My Guardian column is taking a one-week seasonal break this week. (I hope it's having fun and getting drunk, wherever it is. Me, I'm working.) But I did write the introduction to Guardian Weekend's Worst Ideas of 2012 special edition, and contributed one of the "worst ideas": the predilection among politicians, and the rest of us, for ignoring reality.
Meanwhile, here's a short remembrance of Susan Jeffers (third item down), author of Embracing Uncertainty and Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, which I was very pleased to be asked to contribute to the New York Times magazine's annual 'The Lives They Lived' edition. Jeffers's works are subversive, anti-positive-thinking texts masquerading as conventional self-help books – and they're all about not ignoring reality. They're well worth reading.
With only a few days to go until Christmas, which is everyone's favourite day of the year, some readers may be growing anxious. Sure, if you're reading this, you've escaped the destruction of the planet in a cataclysm of fire and molten rock, as allegedly predicted by the Mayans, which was scheduled for yesterday. So that's something. But there's still so much to worry about: the overcooked turkey, the children disappointed by their gifts, the family rituals that descend into bickering, the carol service disrupted by a dirty bomb, and so on. It's only right, then, that this week's column should distil the wisdom of countless self-help gurus and magazine tip lists into one handy guide to the Perfect Christmas:
One of the great strengths of the English language is the number of ways it provides to describe people who annoy us. True, German has the word "Backpfeifengesicht" – "a face in need of a punch" – but English overwhelms us with options, thanks partly to its abundance of vulgarisms. If I call you a "wanker" I mean something subtly different from a "dickhead". (It can be hard to pinpoint these nuances without resort to further swearing, as demonstrated by users of urbandictionary.com, as they struggle to define a "prick": "An all around fucktard, dickweed, assrat bastard.") These differences aren't just a matter of intensity. We can presumably all agree that Simon Cowell is a bit of a tosser. But his success makes it hard to dismiss him as a fuckwit, while it's not clear he's guilty of the malice that would condemn him as a shit.