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Is it just me, or is there a bit more normalcy this year than last as far as Christmas goes? It seems so, at any rate. Ad agencies seem to have moved past their jitters for the most part: somewhere in the text or narration there is usually a Merry Christmas included, and I’ve seen several TV ads that feature crosses in the jewelry sales, right along with everything else. The school concerts around here were called Christmas concerts, and nobody seems to have had a heart attack over it. It seems even headline writers at some news agencies have picked up on it, after a fashion. For instance, I saw a headline a few days ago that called the signing of some sports star to some team “an early Christmas present” for the fans. Imagine that. A Christmas present instead of a holiday present. Right there in print. From a news agency. It’s pathetic, I know, that we’ve been reduced to noticing such things and hoping they augur something, some lessening of hostility, some reduction of a virulent fever or the falling away of mass madness. But there it is.

On the other hand, like any bullies I think the folks who go into temper tantrums at the mention of the phrase “Merry Christmas” or city decorations that showcase angels or Santa Claus instead of merely snowflakes or snowmen – like any bullies I think they like to make people angry. They feed off the reactions they get. And so this year I’m not giving them the satisfaction, if I can help it. I am going about my business as if they don’t exist. If we bump into each other and they take a swing at me, that’s different. I will defend myself – although perhaps not in the angry way they might like to see. (I don’t subscribe to the silly notion that religious people are supposed to wander around saying, “Peace, Dude, Yeah, right, whatever floats your boat, don’t mind me, I’m busy being nice and can’t be bothered with, like, you know, standing up for anything or actually having principles, because, you know, like, can’t we all just get along?” Neither do I let my enemies choose where and when and how I fight back. Heh.)

But sans being mugged I will proceed to wish one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year without blinking, without undue emphasis, without a chip on my shoulder, and as if I assume that everyone on the planet is capable of accepting greetings of good cheer in whatever terminology.

I believe that everyone is capable of that, by the way. I think the grinches choose to be that way. I think they can choose to stop being grinches, too.

I grew up in a community that had many Buddhists and I can’t remember any of them making spectacles of themselves when somebody wished them a Merry Christmas. I seem to remember some of them wishing me Merry Christmas right back, in fact.

Perhaps that was because Christmas was no more religiously significant to me than it was for them so we were being mutually secular about it, but I don’t think so. I think they were just nice people and friendly neighbors, who knew how to celebrate Christmas in their own way without being distressed by those of us not walking the same path.

When I was a child, my family went whole hog on Christmas. We put up stockings. We bought and wrapped gifts. Lots of gifts. We decorated the house. We had a feast. We put up a tree. We decorated that tree to beat the band, every year trying to do better than the year before. We’d put a star or an angel on top of the tree. We had little angels we hung on the tree, and Santas, too. Some years there was a small creche on the fireplace hearth. And every year, if I seemed interested in what the angels or the creche meant, my mother gave me one of her infamous lectures on how people used to believe in stuff like that but we knew better these days. These ornaments were just for fun, like the flying reindeer ornaments we also had. They were just traditional, and tradition was good as long as you knew it was only tradition. Angels and Santa and Jesus and Mary and Joseph and The Three Wise Men were just representations of fairy tales that had been found to be just stories, stories that some people still bought into, but only if they were taught the old superstitions by unscrupulous church leaders who used the fairy tales to hold onto power and make people follow them around like sheep.

Uh, huh. You read that right. My mother used Christmas as a teaching moment for her atheism, which she thought was going to free mankind to finally achieve its full potential. (I beg to differ these days.) But I never saw her attack Christmas as a holiday, or make a stink in public, or tell anybody else how to celebrate the day. She’d bundle me up and let me go caroling house to house with friends who were doing it as a church group, and wish us all a good time. To her, of course, it was only singing and spending time with friends. The songs didn’t mean anything. And when I got back from my lovely time, if there was any sign that any of that ‘awful mind-numbing religion’ had tried to rub off on me, she’d give me the full treatment on how it was so sad that some people were that credulous and actually wasted their time believing in that stuff. Another teaching moment, neatly utilized.

Christmas in our house was a way of showing how nice and generous people could be without religion. It was “proof” that nobody needed a God.

While I think she was right about individuals being able to “be nice” without religious observation, Mother fought a losing battle on the religion-as-superstition front. Somewhere along the way I figured out that the religion she hated wasn’t what religion really was, and that ended that. I mean, when what you’ve been taught is to bow to reality, and you find God is real…

Well, at any rate, I do think some people have either grown tired of the Christmas battles or have decided such battles are counterproductive. And thank goodness. I was tired of all the noise and mindless lashing out. I am glad to see it subsiding. My heartfelt thanks to anyone out there who has decided to be neighborly instead of confrontational this holiday season.

On the other hand, if you do run across atheists and other non-Christians who don’t have the courage of their convictions and therefore go nuclear to find themselves sharing the planet with people who like to spread some joy at Christmas, may I suggest a niceness offensive first (for instance, invite them to join in the fun instead of standing on the outside looking in, if they feel like outsiders looking in), and then an email to the Alliance Defense Fund if that doesn’t work? ADF provides free legal help to people who find their religious freedoms being trampled.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the law is actually on the side of Christmas celebrations, even in schools and other public buildings. The ACLU doesn’t win many actual skirmishes on this front, except by intimidation. Once they get into court, in other words, they usually get trounced, or so I understand. There are some rules and boundaries to observances on public property and with captive audiences of young folks rounded up for educational purposes (as well there should be), but they’re pretty easy to follow. You can find out about them from ADF or other places that have people who specialize in religious freedom laws, and they are also covered in John Gibson’s book The War on Christmas. Gibson’s book, in addition to covering outrageous illegal moves by people intent on pushing Christianity into the closet, has some good notes on bad mistakes made by people trying to fight back. Unless you’d like to make the same mistakes out of ignorance, I’d suggest reading the book. (Not that I can remember all the lessons I picked up reading it! Time to reread it, I guess.)

On a related note, could we try to remember, during all the hustle and bustle and battles over what’s right, that retail businesses are private enterprises? The people who run them are free to celebrate or not celebrate however they want. If you want to thank them for Christmas displays, or snort at Happy Holidays displays, feel free. But please. Could we be civilized about it? For one thing, not everyone who is saying Happy Holidays is trashing Christmas. Happy Holidays used to be a standard greeting that included Christmas as well as other holidays, and I suspect for many people that’s still the way they mean it. Season’s Greetings – same thing. That’s fair enough, in my book. For another thing, it is their store. You are under their roof. They do have rights. I mean, would you walk into somebody else’s house and tell them how to decorate, talk, or think? Store owners and managers and clerks no more ought to be expected to leave their minds and hearts at home than anybody else.

Engage them in conversation? Sure.

Abuse their hospitality, when they’re sitting ducks because of the job they have? I wish you wouldn’t. It’s bad form and bad manners, if nothing else.

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What he says. I’m asking the same thing.

But here’s another angle. Sony has obviously figured out that it can get just all sorts of free publicity by announcing release dates and then sending out fewer PlayStations than will be wanted.

OK, so the psychology experiment has worked. And worked. Just like with the release of Harry Potter books, people will line up at midnight even in horrible weather, if that is what it takes to get their hands on one of the first ones available.

But enough is enough.

Whereas the Harry Potter folks try to meet demand, Sony never even comes close, does it? Has it ever? (I honestly don’t know. The sense I get from the news coverage is that it’s legendarily difficult to get your hands on a new gamebox or whatever they’re called. And as the folklore professor is fond of saying, what is true doesn’t effect people nearly as much as what they think is true.)

And so there are fistfights and worse (there were shootings this year), and so I have a dumb question.

How do the execs in charge of this type of promotion look themselves in the mirror?

Do they think this is cute? A sign of success?

I see that some of the news stories note that Sony had “production problems” this year, which accounts for some of the shortfall.

So, maybe it’s time to stop with the highly publicized release dates and sell this stuff like a normal product? Or something?

I have limited sympathy for people who let themselves get all worked up over a toy. But since it’s been proven again and again that certain types of promotions lead to frenzied behavior, maybe it’s time to throw disapproving glances in the direction of Sony and maybe the stores that let themselves get suckered into going along with the scheme. (Yeah, I know, disapproving glances are so effective so much of the time. But I don’t want more legislation. Suggestions?)

This madness reminds me more than a little of the fatalities at that rock concert in Cincinnati back in 1979. That was also the result of getting people all worked up because they thought they might miss out on something, yes?

And, yes, people have a responsibility to not get pulled into odd behavior like this. They should take the time to look at what’s going on around them and move away if the situation is getting ugly. But people do get caught up in crazes. There are reasons they’re called crazes.

Suggestions?

I’ve seen quite a bit of discussion on the new film, Borat. (See here, for example.)

But my favorite piece so far is Brenda Yablon’s Borat: Good Satire or Cheap Laughs? 

An excerpt:

Satire is a powerful comedic tool that exposes the bigots by holding up their behavior to ridicule. The Anti Defamation League, while being concerned about “the character’s boastful expressions of anti-Semitism and stereotyping of others,” nonetheless is hopeful that people will understand Baron Cohen’s comedic technique, which is “to use humor to unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism and other phobias born of ignorance and fear.” Admittedly, Borat at times achieves this end.

But truly good satire, of the Charlie Chaplin variety, goes even further. It makes people reevaluate how they view the world and even commit to changing their beliefs and actions. This, Borat by no means achieves.

Another excerpt:

The President of Iran is calling for the elimination of the State of Israel. Attacks against Jews are rising at an alarming pace. Israel advocates and a handful of activists are trying to bring this issue to the forefront of the world’s attention, but have little to show for their efforts. Now is the time for creative ways to get this message across, and satire is one of the best methods. Unfortunately, in 2006 all we got was Borat, when what we truly need is Charlie Chaplin.

OK. Satire is useful. Or can be. But only when it’s good enough to make the impression it’s supposed to, and isn’t hidden behind filth. What is the idea of hiding behind filth anyway?

I keep hoping that more filmmakers will outgrown their potty-humor stage. Do any of these folks ever stop to wonder whether they’re making films that can be appreciated by people a few generations from now? Do they care? Is aiming for excellence just not done in their circles? (Too hoity-toity or something?)

Or do they really think that the purpose of art is to offend? (As some of them claim.)

The more I think about it, by the way, the more I’m sure that attitude’s a cop out, plain and simple. But if they believe that, and are surrounded by people who believe that, we’re in for more poop and less wit for a while yet, I’m afraid.

I don’t write it all off as hopeless. After all, I’m living proof that a person can change his/her mind about a number of things as he/she grows up, gets out more, and meets more people and survives more circumstances. It happens.

I’ve met people – and know of even more – who would just as soon erase some of what they said or did in their teens and twenties. Haven’t you?

And I’m noticing more folks who suddenly realize that they’d like to erase some of what they said and did in their thirties and forties. Aren’t you?

I think a lot of theories and policies from the sixties onward have combined to cripple a lot of young folks in the maturity department. And I think we’re paying for it big time.

But there are those folks I mentioned above who do manage to break free of their misguided youth, even if that misguided youth has extended indecently into their middle age. 

And I see a significant number of younger folks who are looking at some of the worst of what we handed them as their inheritance and who are saying “no thanks!” Don’t you?

I even see younger non-conservatives starting to laugh at old ‘liberals’: mocking their Marxism and its offspring, their toxic brand of feminism, their insecurities and insistence that everybody conform, their refusal to commit to one other person of the opposite sex ’til death do us part but their obsession with – you might almost say marriage to – cloudy causes. I don’t see enough of this to suit me, but I do see it. (I put ‘liberals’ in single quotes, because I don’t think many folks on the contemporary Left deserve the label. A classic liberal is worth admiring, in my book, but there seem to be precious few of them about – and mostly they don’t call themselves liberal. Perhaps we could discuss that another day.)

Another good trend is that there are folks rising to the challenge of presenting people with well-made, well-thought-out options. For instance, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe movie gave Hollywood-think a good rattling, I think. Or like to think. (I have my problems with LWW, but I do like how it broke loose, and how it didn’t turn C.S. Lewis’s story upside down or inside out.) 

So, I see some encouraging signs.

But, hey, in the meantime, boo hiss on the grossness of what some folks are presenting as humor in films and over the airwaves.

Please. We can do better. It’s embarrassing when we look bad when compared to our ancestors.

Sure, some old entertainment was crass. Even Shakespeare threw bones to the intellectual midgets watching his plays from the pit.

I guess that’s part of what irks me. I’m so tired of producers and writers who seem to assume it’s enough to play to the pit. That it’s somehow more “authentic” to slosh in the gutter without ever noticing the people who have enough self-respect to jump over sludge when they want to cross the street.

Hey, pssst. Beauty is real, too. And worth celebrating. Worth using, too, where it can lift people up. Honor is real. Discretion has value. Real value. Humans have animal nature, but they. have. more. than. that.

Much, much, much more than that.

I liked some of the election results, and didn’t like some of the election results, but that’s what I expect. Don’t you? It’s hardly worth gnashing teeth over. I figure elections are like New Year’s Eve, and the day after is like New Year’s Day – a good time to decide what resolutions to make, which to put on the shelf, and what course to try next.

Anyway, an acquaintance of ours told us that her father is so distraught that his candidate didn’t win that he hasn’t been able to get out of bed since the results were announced. I think he’s in his 80s, but I’m not sure. He’s old enough, anyway, to know better.

But, then, he’s something of a good old boy, and they’re not generally used to losing.

So, let me tell you about the election his champion lost. The post was county judge, which is a misleading name for what amounts, more or less, to county mayor. It’s a nonpartisan post, officially. Candidates don’t run by party. Their affiliation, if any, isn’t even listed on the ballot. We had two candidates, a Quiet Man and a Brash Man.

Quiet Man is painfully shy, but walked around meeting people on the sidewalk and handing out brochures explaining what he thought needed to be a priority in county business and outlining what he wanted to do. He didn’t like to take questions at debates, but preferred to take questions in writing and reply in writing. That way, he said, he had a chance to study the subject if he needed to, and his reply would be on record, where everybody could see the whole answer insteading of relying on what somebody else said they thought he said.

Brash Man ridiculed Quiet Man for not shooting from the hip, apparently on the grounds that hunches tell a lot about a man. Brash Man also refused to put anything in writing.

Quiet Man offered, if he won, to let the losing side have a place at the table with him.

Brash Man sneered. He made it plain that if anybody thought he’d give ground once elected they were crazy.

A friend of mine, early in the campaign, noticed one of his employees, a clerk at his retail establishment, having a horrible time dealing with a visitor. The visitor was livid about a sign out front of the store expressing support for Quiet Man. Livid. He announced, “I’m responsible for the welfare of this county, and I’m here to see the right people get elected.” No kidding. That’s what he proclaimed.

My friend was a bit taken aback (wouldn’t you be, if a madman walked into your store?), but tried to lighten things up by teasing his employee. “Hey, I thought you Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t do politics?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him,” the clerk said. “I keep telling him I don’t care who wins. He won’t listen.”

The Livid Visitor got more livid. He told my friend to fire her. He said that people who don’t vote don’t have a right to a job.

Let me repeat that. He tried to have her fired for not being political enough. That’s a new one on me. Very, very fringy, yes? Very, very bad, yes?

Now, I don’t understand people who think you can’t be godly if you vote. In fact, I think they’re kind of letting the side down. But this is America, land of ‘it’s no good going around telling people they’ve got to pretend to please God your way and ignore their own ideas on the matter.’ People have a right to opt out of pretty much whatever they think displeases the Almighty.

And they certainly have a right to a job if they can earn it.

Grrr.

The Livid Visitor never would identify himself or say whether he worked for Brash Man’s campaign or was freelancing. He drove off in a huff, cursing and endangering other drivers. Shortly afterward, people who identified themselves as being with the Brash Man’s campaign started calling. And calling. They really wanted a sign up, preferably one that played off the slogan on the Quiet Man sign. One-upsmanship plays well in their circle, I guess.

They managed to talk another clerk (who didn’t know about the previous fuss and wasn’t clear on store policy about signs, but who wanted to be polite) into taking money to put up a sign for their guy, but my friend the manager sent their money back with a polite refusal and that seemed to end that. Not everybody on Brash Man’s side is a thug, apparently. Thank goodness.

Quiet Man concentrated on efforts to make the county more livable, and able to attract more business.

Brash Man has a history of trying to outlaw the United Nations and do away with speed limits on rural highways, that sort of thing: great quixotic quests with much fanfare but little chance of doing more than getting folks in the paper.

Quiet Man won, by a healthy but not overwhelming margin. The first thing he did (according to the grapevine) was offer Brash Man a chance to sit at the council table, next to him. I thought that went too far, myself. If I go in front of the county court with an idea or request, I don’t want to have to face Brash Man’s sneer and ridicule. (Did I mention he likes to ridicule people? Or that he’s much bigger than me? And has rough and rowdy friends?)

Brash Man, though, decided to sneer at the offer instead of people who might come to any future meetings. He has announced that he thinks he’ll move. The county’s gotten too conservative to suit him, he says. A sunnier clime would suit him, he says. He adds he might keep a summer home around here so he can go hunting, but basically he’s tired of trying to live somewhere where he’s surrounded by idiots.

We thought about getting up a collection to help cover moving expenses. But most of the people we know are frugal either by necessity or by choice, and it would be asking a bit much to ask them to spend their hard-earned money subsidizing a Brash Man. Besides, we’re afraid that if people were too open about being happy to see him go he might get contrary and stay. Just to show us who’s boss, you know.

Heh. I love it that the bullies sometimes have to step aside. It would suit my idealism streak a bit better if we didn’t need secret ballots to get the job done, but, well, thank goodness for secret ballots.

Here’s hoping the Democrats at the national level are easier to dance with when they’re leading.

And here’s hoping the Republicans dance as well as they can, with some class.

All right, I was going to try to ignore John Kerry’s ‘study hard or you’ll get stuck in Iraq’ gaffe, but this response from some guys in uniform is too rich to not share. [Correction: that would be guys and gals. My apologies, ladies.]

If by chance you don’t know what the flap is about, the first two items here provide a good overview: the gaffe itself in print, a link to a video of the incident, and a copy of the quite bizarre press release that was issued at Kerry’s still-operational campaign website following the incident. I didn’t post on this earlier because I thought the press release was too John Kerry, if you know what I mean. I assumed the site had been hacked by someone good at parody, perhaps as a tasteless and harmful Halloween prank. Apparently not.

Wonders never cease.

Kerry has since issued what he calls an apology. I think it translates in part to ‘I’m sorry people couldn’t read my mind and if anybody didn’t know what I meant that’s not my fault.’ But I’m not sure. He’s calling his bungle a botched joke. A joke? He wants us to believe his original intent was to tell a joke? I have my doubts – and it certainly would have been a mean-spirited joke, I think – but I think I’ll walk away now and let the dust finish settling. If Kerry decides to run for national office again, though, I reserve the right to repost that press release, especially if he touts his supposed diplomatic skills and gift of nuance.

No, wait. Bookworm has an angle on all of this that most of us seemed to miss. (You may envision me smacking my forehead and berating myself for missing the obvious.) Why is that so many people on today’s Left, including John Kerry, seem to equate academic achievement with wide-ranging intelligence (ed note: except in their political opponents), but don’t recognize that military experience can be an education? Or that it can build backbone, which can turn a life around? Just asking. (For the record, I graduated college with honors. But I’ve learned lots of more useful stuff since then. College had its merits, but largely in what I learned from dealing with people and situations and ideas that were new to me – much of which I could have done just as easily outside of school, yes?)

I wonder if part of the explanation might be that so much of what passes for Leftist thought these days is incubated, hatched and fed almost entirely at college campuses, with a huge assist from ‘true believer’ college grads who go on to careers in media, journalism, and entertainment? Without the folks holed up in academia earnestly making Utopian pronouncements with a straight face and telling their students it’s up to them to change the world, postmodernism and its related worldviews might die on the vine, or at least wither substantially, at a guess. Just a guess. Maybe?

I’d like to add something else to this train of thought, if I may. If Kerry meant to imply that people join the military because they can’t hack the sorts of supposedly wonderful jobs theoretically reserved for college graduates, isn’t he forgetting the people who join the military to give themselves a way to pay for college? Silly man.

Kerry says he meant to insult the President instead of the troops. Noting in passing that this is low-rent behavior in and of itself, I can’t get that to make sense. President Bush was granted a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale and a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard. Not exactly something to sneeze at, I wouldn’t think, and more or less a career path Sen. Kerry was otherwise advising in his speech.

Why am I bothering with this? Eek. I was discussing the whole kerfuffle with a friend yesterday and I think we decided that we were trying to make sense of something that was nonsense. Silly us.

Sigh. Now I’m walking away.

Update: Background on that troop photo: GIs drop smart bomb on Kerry. (Via Bookworm Room)