Tag Archives: Christmas

I Worry About Cary Grant [Updated]

…and James Cagney. And Kirk Douglas. And Bette Davis. And Rita Hayworth.

Seeing Kirk Douglas at the Golden Globes revived the concern that every Christmas season intensifies for me, when I realize that it is only Christmas that keeps such giants of entertainment past as Gene Autry, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin from fading into permanent obscurity.  The cultural figures who we remember are mostly the beneficiaries of moral luck, not a fair merit-based calculation. It is a random process, and culture, which is significantly defined by who and what we remember and who and what we forget, should not be shaped by coincidence, chance, and random amnesia.

It should not be, but it is. A classic example outside the realm of entertainment is the strange case of  Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg, and by some assessments the savior of the Union itself. When the story of Gettysburg was assembled by the battlefield commission, plaques erected and statues placed. Chamberlain’s desperate stand protecting the Union army’s flanks on Day Two of the battle didn’t make the cut. Despite as remarkable a career as anyone from Maine could have, and more than one shining moment of distinction during the Civil War, he was forgotten for more than a century. Then a brilliant, best-selling historical novel, “The Killer Angels,” recounted his heroics leading the 20th Maine so vividly that Chamberlain memory was re-animated, and began receiving the attention from historians that it deserved from the start.

In popular culture, whether a performer’s unique talents and contributions are remembered after more than a generation is now almost entirely dependent on whether there is a film featuring them that is regularly presented on television. Only a handful of performers who have permanently entered iconic status avoid that standard: I’d include Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Shirley Temple and John Wayne in this category, with a few debatable others. (And even the Little Tramp, MM, Fred, Judy and The Duke aren’t necessarily  safe: once Rudolf Valentino, Laurel and Hardy, Lon Cheney, Greta Garbo, Boris Karloff and James Dean could be safely called icons. I doubt one Millennial in a hundred could identify any of them. Marlene Dietrich has a thumb-hold on her iconic status only because of  Madeline Kahn’s film-long send-up of her in “Blazing Saddles.”) Continue reading

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The Christmas Asshole, Neil DeGrasse Tyson

“Merry Christmas to the world’s 2.5 billion Christians. And to the remaining 5 billion people, including Muslims Atheists Hindus Buddhists Animists & Jews, Happy Monday.”

What would justify a public figure tweeting that kind of arrogant, hostile, belittling message  at his fellow citizens would on Christmas Eve?

Nothing.

This was one of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweets yesterday. I’m sure the nation’s most prominent and least deserving pop intellectual assumed that his many Twitter followers who hang on every word of revealed wisdom he utters  would appreciate his giving Christmas the metaphorical back of his hand, which only means this asshole has a lot of asshole followers.

Why do this? It is not as if there is any delusion among Christmas revelers that “billions” of others in the world do not have the pleasure of celebrating the world’s most inclusive and ethical cultural holiday. Tyson’s intent was not to inform, it was to diminish, using a version of the Golden Rationalization: “Everybody does it;” in this case, “More people do it, so what you do instead isn’t as great as you think it is.”

Asshole. Tyson doesn’t have to observe Christmas, and he doesn’t have to absorb the wisdom that Scrooge learned so traumatically, he need not acknowledge an annual ritual in which we are all encouraged to embrace love, peace, generosity, ethics, respect, charity, empathy, selflessness and hope for at least a day, opening the possibility that the enlightenment may last longer, and even a lifetime, as it did for Ebeneezer.  If he had any decency or common courtesy, however, he wouldn’t try to spoil the holiday for anyone else not so blighted. As Richard Fernandez wrote yesterday, deftly exposing the flaw in fatuous efforts among  various sad enclaves of progressives more concerned with triggering some offense with a “Merry Christmas!’ than with the health of society itself, it is helpful to understand

“…Christmas as playing a role analogous to the fictional baseball field in the movie Field of Dreams: not a place or day but a reverie. To paraphrase the famous speech to Ray, when people come to Christmas, …”it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. …  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.” But Christmas has marked the time. Marked the time because, as C.S. Lewis once adventured,  Christmas is not an idealized memory of childhood but of something glimpsed in childhood.

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

…The effort to erase Christmas will probably fail for no other reason than that it meets a human need that a mechanical bureaucratic day off cannot fulfill. Humanity needs a time to mark the growth and change in the family, an occasion to renew hopes and put aside fears and a chance to remember something we once knew: that everything’s going to be alright in the end. It really will.

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, Social Media, U.S. Society, Unethical Tweet

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/17/2017: Sick Of Train Wrecks, Sick Of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!,” Sick Of Being Lied To. Merry Christmas!

Good Morning, And Merry Christmas!

(and no, my tree isn’t decorated yet. As usual, there were complications…)

1 “You’re one of THEM, aren’t you?” Curse everyone on all sides of the political spectrum who have, by shear repetition, turned the mere act of saying “Merry Christmas!” into a presumptive partisan greeting. A recent study indicates that about 90% of the public celebrates Christmas, not some amorphous holiday, either in its religious or secular form on and around December 25th. There should be nothing malign about the salutation at all, and yes, the polite and pleasant response to “Merry Christmas!” is “The same to you!” or “Merry Christmas!” Yesterday, I received a silent glare and a scowl from a merchant to whom I gave the happy wish, and he was selling Christmas tree stands!

2. Not AGAIN! This is one of those periods during a year when the same ethics issues hang around like a bad odor, and I am faced with the choice of intentionally avoiding them, even though they continue to make news and to be the topic of conversation online and on TV, or to keep covering them no matter how bored I get. In fact, all of 2017 feels that way. Every day now, I have to face a new swerve of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, and its cultural, ethical, and political implications. (Chris Matthews! Rep. Bobby Scott!). The news media disgraces itself daily in its partisan hatred of the President of the United States. “The resistance” and Democrats (but I repeat myself) continue to unethically push the nation into a constitutional crisis as their remedy for the longest loser’s tantrum in recorded history, and, yang to their yin, President Trump continues to be as unpresidential in his manner, words and actions as I thought he would, but hoped he wouldn’t, feeding the flames of division.

3. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!”  Here is an article protesting the movement to “ban” (figuratively, not literally), the seasonal duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”  for “being insufficiently PC in the sexual assault/harassment realm.” Ethics Alarms called the song “date-rapey” two years ago, so while I don’t exactly want to ban the thing, I am sick of hearing it on Christmas playlists. On Sirius-XM’s “Holly” station, I’d estimate that over 50% of the “Holiday songs” have to do with sex (none have to do with the religious holiday, by design), and I blame “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which on the alternative Christmas channel, “Traditions” —where every song is sung by someone who is dead, with the exception of a few hangers-on like Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis, either of whom could drop any second—“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is played every hour, sometimes more than once. Pearl Bailey (dead), Steve and Eydie (dead and dead), Sammy Davis Jr, and Carmen MacRae (both dead), Dean Martin (dead). Writes the blogger, Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/2/17: Hackers, My NPR Panel, An Unethical Journalist Actually Faces Consequences, And God Bless Us, Everyone!

 

GOOD MORNING!!!

1  Actually, it’s a terrible morning. I began what has really been a hideous morning at 5 a.m. with a hacking alert on my computer. I eventually, with the help of some technicians, identified the usernames of 27 hackers who were accessing my data, apparently.

I should have written this before, I guess, but hackers, all of them, every single one no matter what their motives or what they do, are the scum of the earth, ethical black pits, and blight on civilization. Yet the popular culture loves them. There are young hackers, male, female, black, white, Asian, Indian and Hispanic, handicapped hackers…no old hackers,of every type all over the TV fare, usually as part of the heroic team on procedurals. (There are no old hackers.) What power they have! How smart they are! Often they are ex-criminals, who managed to acquire an exciting, lucrative job by displaying their hacking skills to law enforcement in the course of committing crimes. Usually, they are the funny members of the team, or the cute, like Matthew Broderick in “Wargames.” No wonder our young see these shows and think hacking is cool. In “Jurassic Park,” Lexi, the young girl who almost gets her feet bitten off by a raptor, proudly calls herself a hacker.

“Hacker” means asshole, kid.

And I was rooting for the raptor.

2. Marley was dead. One of these days I will have to do an overview of the links to your left. They are there for their value in stimulating ethical thought and discussion, not because some asked for a link exchange. Under the “Inspiration” category—you have to scroll down to see it—is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, arguably the best and most accessible ethics story ever written. I have directed four staged readings of the classic and three “radio” versions through the years, and I don’t know a better way to get into the proper frame of mind—an ethical one– for the holiday season.

Last night I watched actor Paul Morella perform his one man “Christmas Carol” at the Olney Theater in Maryland. Paul is a long-time friend and collaborator: he has been playing Clarence Darrow in a one-man show we created together for 17 years, and we launched a continuing legal education seminar about Darrow’s legal ethics at the D.C. Bar this year. If you live in the D.C. Metropolitan area, I can not recommend the Olney show to you more enthusiastically. As Paul points out in his notes, this is how Charles Dickens himself presented the story in front of Victorian audiences, and he did not have the benefit of the evocative sound and light effects Paul employs. Charles was also not in Paul’s league as actor, I bet.

3. One down, 102, 568 to go… Brian Ross went live on ABC last week and announced  the fake news story that then-candidate Donald Trump had instructed Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians, thus triggering a massive stock market sell-off. Seven hours later, ABC sheepishly admitted that it was President-elect”Trump who had made the request of Flynn.  ABC News  announced last night that  Ross would be suspended for four weeks without pay. Said the Disney-owned network:

“It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience – these are our core principles. We fell far short of that yesterday. Effective immediately, Brian Ross will be suspended for four weeks without pay.”

Observations:

  • Good.

It would be very good if this became the routine response when a mainstream media reporter misinformed the public through bias, negligence or incompetence.

  • Raise your hand if you think that this action only occurred because the Dow Jones crashed.

My hand is up.

  • “Retain the trust we have built with our audience…” What trust? Anyone who trusts the news media after the past two years, not to mention the past ten, is foolish, gullible, or a Democrat.

4. A pause for levity since I am so upset…Here is the Celebrity Perv Apology Generator.  This “guide for new celebrities” is also mordantly amusing, on the same topic. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “‘White Christmas’ Ethics Addendum: Battlefield Incompetence, Insubordination And More In The Holiday Classic”

To kick off the Not-Too-Early-To-Play-Christmas-Music Season, here is a Comment of the Day that adds another chapter to the Ethics Alarms commentary on “White Christmas,” the Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye musical film that is one of the five or six most resilient of the Christmas classics. The initial ethics analysis is here.

The post that spawned the latest take was a rare guest essay by Ethics Alarms veteran texagg04.

Now comes new commenter SykesFive to provide insight into the pivotal character of General Waverly, played by Dean Jagger. Among other things, he argues that one reason the general was so beloved was that he was poor general, treating the lives of his men as more important than his mission.

Here is his Comment of the Day on tex’s post, “White Christmas” Ethics Addendum: Battlefield Incompetence, Insubordination And More In The Holiday Classic:

I have a somewhat different take on this. I sometimes think I am the only person who thinks so much about the Waverly character.

As the scene opens, Major General Waverly is being relieved for frankly the only reason American unit commanders were relieved during the war: he didn’t take the objectives. That is failure. It could be lack of aggression or poor coordination or anything else, but ultimately it is failure and the commanding officer will pay the price. He will be shuffled off to a rear area command, or maybe just left to bum around the theater, and be out of the Army by the end of 1945 because his record will be so tarnished. He will be lucky not to revert to his prewar rank.

Waverly’s age suggests he was a company-grade officer during WWI and may or may not have seen combat during that conflict’s closing weeks, then spent decades idling in the interwar army. Apart from whatever happened in 1918, Waverly has no more combat experience than anyone else in the division. He is not an experienced commander by any measure. He had the right credentials–a few articles in service journals, no serious problems on his posts, and of course a West Point Ring–but had never really been tested as a field-grade officer. Again this is a common profile.This is a very common profile for WWII US Army division commanders.

So in 1940, let’s say Colonel Waverly seemed like a likely candidate for command of an infantry division in the expanding army. He did well enough with some trial commands–all during stateside training and expansion–and was promoted to one and then two stars. He seemed competent enough when the 151st Division was formed and went through let’s say nearly two years of intensive training in Texas or California or wherever. And so the division was sent to Europe in let’s say August 1944, then spent a couple months languishing in Normandy or the Pas de Calais region, during which time Waverly was a friendly presence at other officers’ headquarters as well as around his division. Bear in mind that at this point, and really for the whole war after the breakout from Normandy, the limit on American frontline strength was providing fuel and artillery shells. There were more men and tanks than could be sustained at the front. Continue reading

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Holiday Encore: “Christmas: the Ethical Holiday”

darth-vader-christmas

I googled “Christmas ethics” yesterday, and guess what came up first. This Ethics Alarms post, from December 25, 2010.

I fix a couple of things, but it is basically the same. If I were writing it anew, I might not use the loaded term “war on Christmas,” which those who are trying to shove Christmas out of the national culture indignantly deny. It isn’t a war, exactly, just a relentless, narrow-minded and destructive effort to take something that has been enduring, healthy, unifying and good, and re-define it as archaic, offensive, divisive, and wrong. Call it the suffocation of Christmas, or perhaps the assassination of Christmas. Whatever one calls it, the process has progressed since 2010.

We’ve discussed on various comment threads quite a bit about how Christmas music has almost vanished from radio. It has also been effectively banned from public schools, who are terrified of law suits in era when parents might sue over their child being warped by learning “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “Here Comes Santa Claus!”, another one of Gene Autry’s liveliest Christmas hits, one he wrote himself(unlike “Rudolph”), has been declared musica non grata everywhere but on nostalgia satellite radio. It is such an up-beat song; Bing Crosby sings it with the Andrews Sisters on his iconic “Merry Christmas!” album. Why is it unwelcome today? It is unwelcome because the lyrics say we are “all God’s children,” and ends with “Let’s give thanks for the Lord above.” Can’t have that.

The ascendant attitude toward Christmas is both anti-religious and non-ethical. In my neighborhood, there are far more Star Wars Christmas figures, including Yule Darth Vader ( though thankfully not the 18-ft. Hammacher-Schlemmer version pictured above) and Christmas Storm Troopers, than any suggestion of peace, good will or love. Even these non-sectarian displays are too much for the Diversity Fascists, like this guy:

diversity-tweet

Such people believe that a healthy national culture embracing love, charity, generosity and kindness is disrespectful, and their society-rotting ideology is as much of a threat to our nation as terrorism. I don’t know how to reverse the damage already inflicted on our society, but I do know that we have to try. Reinvigorating Christmas and the ethical values it stands for would be a good start.

Merry Christmas, everyone—and I do mean everyone.

Finally, here’s the post..

Continue reading

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The Ethical Christmas Carol

Considering that Christmas is our culture’s ethical holiday, it is remarkable that only one traditional carol—and no modern holiday songs—celebrates ethical conduct. The one carol is “Good King Wenceslas,” and a strange one it is.

The lyrics are by J. M. Neale (1818-66), and were first published in 1853. Neale is a superstar in the Christmas Carol firmament: he also is responsible for the English lyrics of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” both of which you hear much more frequently than “Good King Wenceslas.” One reason is that the ethical carol tells a story in ten verses, and if you don’t sing them all, the story doesn’t make sense. There are very few recordings of the song in which all the verses are sung. Ten verses is also a lot to remember for any song. My elementary school used to teach the whole carol to sixth graders for the Christmas assembly, but let them have crib sheets. This was before it was decreed that allowing children to learn, sing and listen to some of the most lovely and memorable songs in Western culture was a form of insidious religious indoctrination.

Here is the whole carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath’ring winter fuel.

‘Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?’

‘Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.’

‘Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither,
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.’

Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.’

‘Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.’

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

For one thing, “Good King Wenceslas” has little to do with Christmas Day, and doesn’t mention Jesus or the Nativity. The Feast of St. Stephen is also known as Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, December 26. It is a British Commonwealth tradition that never caught on in the U.S. In some European countries like Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, the day is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day. Continue reading

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