Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Music Blues”

christmas-hero-h

In addition to honoring his Comment of the Day, I also have to thank texagg04 for his timely comment to last year’s lament here, “Christmas Blues,” about the state of Christmas music as presented by the media. Christmas and holiday music is a useful, if depressing, window into the state of U.S. culture, and if he hasn’t written this commentary, I would have had to. Unfortunately, the tex’s list is res ipsa loquitur, and what it speaks of isn’t good. Christmas, the most ethical of holidays, has been substantially stripped of its ethical foundations by pop culture.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post “Christmas Music Blues.” For added perspective, you may also want to revue last year’s post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide.

As of noon today (Monday, 28 Nov), I ran a quick survey of songs played on our local “Christmas” station since the start of last Monday.

95 songs played (though 161 if you separate them by Artist and Version of the song) for a total of 1,893 times.

Here’s the list and how many times they were played (Down on the list are some weird outliers involving the Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice soundtrack. I have no clue how those landed on the station’s playlist archive…but they were there, so I’ve included them): Continue reading

On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

christmas-hero-H

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington foundation threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it us well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said…

Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

Resuscitating and revitalizing Christmas in our nation’s heart will take more than three ghosts, and will require overcoming political correctness maniacs, victim-mongers and cultural bullies; a timid and dim-witted media, and spineless management everywhere. It is still worth fighting for.

More than five years ago, Ethics Alarms laid out a battle plan to resist the anti-Christmas crush, which this year is already underway. Nobody was reading the blog then; more are now. Here is the post: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Washington Post Tries To Hide A Muslim Attack From Its Readers: What’s Going On Here? Or Rather, What The HELL Is Going On Here?”

islam

Rich (in CT) delivers his second Comment of the Day this month, as he delves into the complex ethical considerations affecting our understanding of the relationship between Islam and Islamic terrorists. (President Obama’s delusion notwithstanding, “What relationship?” is neither an honest nor responsible position.)  This is really two comments from Rich over the past 24 hours. Fascinating, thoughtful and helpful.

Here is Rich’s double-Comment of the Day, on the post, The Washington Post Tries To Hide A Muslim Attack From Its Readers: What’s Going On Here? Or Rather, What The HELL Is Going On Here?:

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!

On Its 100th Anniversary: Remembering The Great War’s Christmas Truce Of 1914

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On December 7, 1914, as the horrible, pointless, world-disrupting “War to End All Wars”  was only five months old, Pope Benedict XV suggested a truce for the celebration of Christmas. The governments of the battling nations rejected the idea, but in the days leading up to  Christmas and after, many of  the soldiers in the trenches of this ugly conflict took the Pope’s advice.

On December 20, Germans soldiers in some areas took in British wounded from the no man’s land between the warring armies. A German soldier reported on December 22 that both sides had been heard singing Christmas Carols in the trenches. German troops arriving into the lines had begun bringing Christmas trees, and some men placed them on the parapets of the fire trenches. Then, on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops serenaded each other across the lines. Allied soldiers reported that sometimes their singing was accompanied by German brass bands. Then, Christmas Day, 1914, some of the German soldiers left their trenches and  carefully approached Allied lines, shouting“Merry Christmas” in French and English. Allied soldiers climbed out of their trenches, and shook hands with the men who had only recently been trying to kill them. Some even exchanged exchanged gifts of cigarettes and and food. There were even instances where soldiers from opposing sides played soccer: in England, one organization is holding a match next week against a German team to commemorate such contests. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game…”

pop-gun

Steve-O-in NJ, commenting on the post about President Obama’s weak response to the invasion of the Ukraine by an emboldened Russia. raises the broader ethical point of America’s duty to be militarily strong, one of the persistent areas of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, and one area where the right has it right, and the left is out in left field. It should be noted, however, that this problem is a direct consequence of the even greater one hanging over us: the relentlessly expanding National Debt, and the irresponsible lack of political courage and resolve to do anything about it other than let it get worse. This was most recently demonstrated by what we have learned about the President’s new budget proposal, which raised the ethical question, “Did Obama ever mean what he said about entitlement reform and serious debt reduction?”

Wrote Washington Post editorial chief Fred Hiatt—a liberal Democrat, like virtually all of his colleagues— last week:

It’s a relatively small thing, really, a fix to the calculation of cost-of-living benefits that would have helped save Social Security. But President Obama’s decision to drop the reform from his proposed budget hints at a bigger question: What does he believe in enough to really fight for?

To hear him in 2009, you would have thought that safeguarding Social Security was one such goal. “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security,” he said. In 2010, he was even more determined: “Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we’ll still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. . . . I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.” Now the winds have shifted — his party wants to woo older voters by promising richer benefits, not reform — and Obama has moved on, too. Someone else will have to fix Social Security.

His turnabout on foreign policy has been even more dizzying. Three years ago, he was promising to support democracy movements throughout the Middle East and protect their advocates from government violence.

Hiatt, whom I generally respect, seems to be uncharacteristically slow on the uptake here. Many of us figured out way back in 2008 that Obama was a politician who would use whatever soaring rhetoric he thought would please the maximum number of voters, and that he had no idea how or whether to make his words reality….and does not yet.  Meanwhile, the Post’s fairest and most astute conservative pundit, Robert Samuelson, explained why Obama’s inaction on entitlements guarantees weakness in the world:

We are spending more and getting less, and — unless present trends are reversed — this will continue for years. It threatens the end of government as we know it.

The cause is no mystery. An aging population and higher health spending automatically increase budget outlays, which induce the president and Congress to curb spending on almost everything else, from defense to food stamps. Over the next decade, all the government’s projected program growth stems from Social Security and health care, including the Affordable Care Act. By 2024, everything else will represent only 7.4 percent of national income (gross domestic product), the lowest share since at least 1940, says Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.

This is the central budget story, and it’s largely missed — or ignored — by political leaders, the media, political scientists and the public. The welfare state is taking over government. It’s strangling government’s ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security’s 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support. Politicians of both parties are loath to challenge these large, expectant and generally sympathetic groups.

With this as the depressing backdrop, here is Steve O’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, It’s Time To Play The Exciting New Broadcast Media Ethics Game, “Biased, Lazy, or Incompetent!”: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Muslim women, in ethical garb

During last week’s hearings on the alleged radicalization of Muslim-Americans, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, protesting that the hearings were an example of prosecution and bigotry, said:

“Islam is a religion based upon peace, goodwill and the ethical treatment of all people on this planet.”

Politics involves advocacy, and zealous advocacy sometimes metastasizes into exaggerations, overstatements, and lies. Determined governors are called dictators and criminals; those questioning global warming models are compared to Holocaust deniers. Believing that an attack on an enemy nation is in the best interests of America, leaders who should be saying, “We have good reason to believe that this nation has weapons of mass destruction and is inclined to use them,” say instead, “We know where the weapons are and the threat is imminent.” Other leaders who are trying to get important health care reforms passed say, “Don’t worry—if you like your current plan, you’ll be able to keep it!”, neglecting to add the caveat that that plan you like may be forced out of existence if the bill is passed.

These excesses range from deceitful to outright lying, but they are all unethical, all disrespectful of the truth and the public that has a right to it, all aimed at manipulating public opinion with falsity.

I find Kucinich’s statement especially indefensible, because the degree of his presumably misstatement of the truth was completely unnecessary if his motives were good. Continue reading

Heeding the Christmas Season Ethics Alarms

Yes, it has come to this. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas season is a pre-unethical condition, getting worse every year. (Pre-unethical conditions are situations that experience teaches us deserve early ethics alarms, since the stage is set for habitual bad conduct.) The financial stresses on the public and the business community in 2010 will only fuel the creeping tendency to ignore the moral and ethical values that are supposed to underlie the winter holidays—charity, gratitude, generosity, kindness, love, forgiveness, peace and hope—for the non-ethical considerations that traditionally battle them for supremacy: avarice, selfishness, greed, self-pity, and cynicism. Combine this with the ideological and political polarization in today’s America and the deterioration of mutual respect and civility, and the days approaching Christmas are likely to become an ethical nightmare…unless we work collectively to stop that from happening. Continue reading