The Story Of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” [Updated And Corrected]

Bing Crosby memorably introduced this last of the popular Christmas songs to have a religious theme to most Americans in 1963, on this live broadcast of “The Hollywood Palace.”  It  was written in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, by a married songwriting team that  wondered at the time if it would be the last thing they ever did.

Noel Regney, who wrote the lyrics, was born in France and had studied music at the Strasbourg Conservatory and at the Conservatoire National de Paris. When France was overwhelmed by Hitler’s troops in 1940, he was conscripted into the German army. As a Nazi soldier, he secretly joined the French underground and served as a spy, passing information along to the resistance. Once he led German soldiers into a trap where they were massacred by French fighters who cut them down in a crossfire. He was shot too, but survived.

After that traumatic encounter, Regney deserted and worked with the French underground until the end of the war. Continue reading

Why It’s Unethical For Journalists To “Fact Check” Donald Trump—Especially CNN Journalists

Donald Trump

In Donald Trump’s meaningless statement yesterday, which was covered by the news media as if it was the revelation of the millennium, he  officially conceded that Barack Obama is a natural born U.S. citizen. He also used the silly media attention to drag out his announcement into a long campaign infomercial for which he didn’t have to pay a cent. Nice, and it serves the broadcast media right for giving any significance to a five-year-long trolling exercise.

Trump used the phony controversy over President Obama’s birth certificate to get publicity five years ago, because he is shameless. That’s all. Did he really think Obama was born in Kenya? Oh, who knows? He is an idiot, after all. Then again, he is a skilled professional troll. Whether he believed it or not, Trump used the issue to get attention then, and now has used his 180 degree reversal to get attention now. Obviously nothing has changed that would justify this flip-flop if he believed what he insisted was true for five years. A more transparently cynical and insincere retraction I cannot conceive. Who cares what Trump says he believes at any point, about anything?

But I digress. What really seemed to enrage the journalists who have embraced Rationalizations #28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times,” and #31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now” to anoint themselves as full-time volunteer members of the Hillary for President campaign, was that Trump said this:

“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.”

Quoth the thoroughly partisan news media,

“ARRGH!!!!:

Continue reading

Vox’s Hypocritical Attack On President McKinley

Mckinley ButtonNow we get to it: William McKinley doesn’t “deserve” to have a mountain named after him. That’s the hilarious argument of progressive-mouthpiece Vox, and it really is the height of hypocrisy, naked partyism, and a window into the corrupt and shameless mentality of the liberal pundit establishment.

President McKinley led the nation out of a terrible depression, and Vox explains that he deserves no credit for it at all because he was lucky. Well, in leadership and history, you get credit for luck,  because doing everything brilliantly and still seeing your army, organization or nation go down the tubes isn’t being a great leader no matter how you spin it. This, as I have written before, is the central, operating myth being drummed into Americans’ minds by President Obama’s minions and journalist-enablers: it isn’t what really happens that matters, it’s what the President wanted to happen. It’s not the bad consequences of policies that we should pay attention to, but the good intentions under which they were undertaken.

That is, in a word, batty. But that’s what the echo chamber wants us to believe. It has reached its apotheosis of absurdity with the proposed Iran deal, which is being defended on the grounds that it is aimed at preventing a nuclear armed Iran, even though that is a goal it can’t plausibly achieve. But it is intended to make the world less dangerous, and that’s what matters.

I have tried to assess how many past Presidents would respond to this theory with “What?,” how many with “You must be joking!” and how many with, “Oh, sure, it’s worth a shot.” In the latter category, so far, I have Carter, Pierce, because he’d be drunk, maybe Ford, because he might not understand the question, and perhaps Wilson—certainly after his stroke. Continue reading

Remembering Christmas Music

nativity

It is slowly dawning on me that Christmas music, one of the annual joys of my childhood and perhaps yours, is in a perilous state, both culturally and aesthetically. The best of the songs musically are religious in nature, which means that schools won’t pass them along to their charges as happened routinely when I was a child, and even playing them on the radio is likely to be regarded as a religious statement. I just loved the music, as I think most kids would if they ever got the chance before they were brainwashed into believing the ancient songs were subversive.

A full court cultural press is underway to make those songs as rarely heard outside of church as hymns, and I don’t see the trend as reversible. One obvious bar to a comeback: current pop stars don’t have the pipes to sing most of them without causing a sound pollution emergency. Or, if one of the few singers who could actually hit the notes dared to cover a carol like “O Holy Night,” he or she would feel required to apply flourishes of the sort that make every rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at a major sports event an invitation to PTSD.

Even for the more secular Christmas repertoire, the clock is running out. The most listenable versions, and the definitive ones in most cases, are by performers of the past who are not just dead, but also long forgotten by the current culture. An hour of classic Christmas recordings on the radio is now a reminder of how old I am and close to joining great singers like Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Jo Stafford, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis—dead, dead, dead. I guess Brenda Lee is still alive, so “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is a little less depressing, but it’s a minor classic at best. It’s gotten so bad that when I hear “The Little Drummer Boy,” I find myself wondering if the whole Harry Simeone Chorale is dead too—Harry died in 2005, and the recording is 56 years old, after all.

Meanwhile, our post-modern culture is sneering at the whole idea of Christmas songs, and Christmas itself. Most modern Christmas songs either are making fun of Christmas, about sex, or just lousy. The tradition is being undermined in more creative ways, too: this week I watched a 2012 straight-to-video movie called “12 Disasters of Christmas,” based on the loopy premise that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was really a coded recipe for stopping the 2012 apocalypse predicted by the Mayan calendar. “The Mayans knew that the knowledge would have to be preserved for centuries, so they devised a song that would carry the secret and would be passed on and learned by children for generations,” explains the old codger who’s figured it all out. (But why would they choose such a monotonous and stupid song?) Come on, guess: How does the “Chosen One” stop the end of the world? [Answer below.]*

The movie is on to something, though. The Christmas songs that have the best chance of persevering though this age of  cynicism and cultural illiteracy may be those that either tell a story  or that have an interesting one related to their creation. The simple and beautiful tune of “Silent Night,” for example, as one of those films they used to show in school assemblies every year before some anti-religious hysteric sued, was composed for guitar in response to a Christmas Eve crisis for a small church in the Austrian alps in 1818: the church organ wasn’t working.  I have found that Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”  affects me far more deeply since I learned that the Berlins’ infant son died on Christmas day, and that while his children celebrated Christmas as a cultural holiday, Berlin and his wife did not. They spent each Christmas after their son’s death in mourning. The song is a wistful remembrance of a happier time that the composer will never experience again.

Maybe another Christmas song will persevere if its origins are remembered; I was reminded of its history this week as a result of the thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba. Though my wife hates it, the song is one of my favorites, perhaps because it brings back warm memories: I watched the song’s first national broadcast with my sister and parents, and the Marshalls bought the recording the next day.

It was 1962. Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne were a husband and wife songwriting team of modest success. They were saddened by the lack of any spiritual content in popular Christmas songs then; imagine what they would think today.

Like all Americans, they were petrified during the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation. As the crisis intensified, Regney found himself inspired to write down a simple poem with a Christmas theme. (Later, the couple would say that neither of them could ever sing the song through, because of the strong emotions it recalled.) When the nation could finally take a deep breath of relief as the threat ended,  Gloria devised a melody for her husband’s words, though he had always been the composer when he and wife wrote songs together.

The result of this unique variation on their collaboration was recorded before the end of 1962, but it wasn’t until the following year, when Bing Crosby sang the team’s creation live on ABC’s  “Hollywood Palace,”  that it became widely known. The song written during the Cuban Missile Crisis became a best-seller, Crosby’s last hit Christmas record, and also the last popular Christmas song to have a religious theme.

It was, and remains, a prayer for peace.

____________________________

* By finding and wearing FIVE GOLDEN RINGS, of course!

“Print The Legend” Ethics Again: The Cuban Missile Crisis “Blink”

blink map

It is certainly in part a case of tweeking a rival, but the Washington Post and its “Factchecker,” Glenn Kessler, properly exposed a New York Times columnists’ perpetuation of a popular historical misconception, and worse, that paper’s adamant refusal to correct it.

The columnist was Thomas Friedman, one of the Times’ stable of liberal pundits, and the quote was this, in the opening sentence of of one of the many Obama foreign policy reclamation columns that have appeared lately from the President’s journalistic Maginot Line:

“There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War: ‘We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.’”

Kessler gives Friedman a full “four Pinocchios,” for the simple reason that this is untrue, a myth, a proven historical inaccuracy that has been enshrined in film, print, and Kennedy hagiography. He writes… Continue reading

Easy Call: Wikileaks Is Naive, Unethical, and Dangerous

All one has to know is the degree to which nuclear war was averted through diplomatic back-channels and secret communications during the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962 in order to begin to understand how dangerous, stupid and wrong the entire concept of Wikileaks is. The latest dump of secret, near-secret and supposedly secure government messages on a wide range of topics has the  same general effect as a group of small, noisy children running amuck, screaming and banging pots and pans, while adults are trying to address urgent issues of war, commerce, human rights, and terrorism in the same small room. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Robert M. McElwaine, 1925-2010

Every time I hear about a new tell-all book by a famous person’s former lover, spouse, political aide or appointee, full of embarrassing revelations about what celebrities, political leaders or admired (or reviled) historical figures did or said behind closed doors or in the dead of night, I admire Bob McElwaine just a little more. When he died this month, the Washington Post obituary described him as a man who knew how to keep a secret. He did, but he was much more than that.

Robert McElwaine was a gentleman. Continue reading

The Ethics of Dithering

At some point, delaying  an important leadership decision stops being resposnible, and begins being unethical.

The White House put out word today that President Obama’s decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan is on the verge of being revealed. When it is, a few things are certain. If his decision is to increase troop levels to the degree requested by the Pentagon, Obama’s pacifist Left supporters will be furious. If it is to withhold more troops and prepare for U.S, withdrawal, supporters of an aggressive war policy on the Right will go on the attack. If it is anything in between, neither of these camps will be happy.

It is also certain that nobody will be able to tell if what the President has decided is the “right” decision. Continue reading