Thursday, December 31, 2009


One year ago, as 2008 morphed into 2009, I thought things were pretty stable. Only the date on the calendar would differentiate it from the year before.

How wrong I was.

I now face unemployment at the end of January and uncertainty beyond that. My wife, in an uncharacteristically optimistic mood, speculated that since we thought 2009 would be fine and it was otherwise that perhaps our apprehensions about 2010 will also be wrong and that some unforeseen change of fortune will turn things to the better.

I wonder how many people on New Year’s Eve 1929 awaited the arrival of 1930 thinking “things can only get better”?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Keep Christ in Commercialism!

On my way into work this Christmas Eve, I drove past a modest suburban dwelling with a sign in the yard. The sign carried the plea “Keep Christ in Christmas”. While this is certainly not an unusual sentiment from Christians, it was the picture accompanying the slogan that caught my eye. It was not, as the slogan might suggest, a manger scene or a cross or a Star of Bethlehem. Nope. It was a snowman. A bescarved, carrot-nosed, top-hatted - and very, very secular – snowman.

While I suspect this choice of illustration likely had to do more with a shortage of clip art at the sign printer, I think it unintentionally spoke volumes.

If indeed there has ever been, as some social conservatives are quick to argue, a “War on Christmas”, the recent “counterattacks” by the religious right are, in my opinion, a de facto admission of defeat.

The reason I have reached this conclusion is that, in past decades, many Christians voiced their discontent with the fact that Christmas had become “too commercial”, which is to say the holiday had shifted focus from a celebration of Christ’s birth to a secular holiday focused on consumerism and glitzy holiday displays designed to promote sales. These purists wanted to discard or at least downplay the commercial aspects of the season and focus on what they felt was the “true meaning” (i.e., the religious aspect) of the holiday. (As a Peanuts fan, might I suggest the 1965 production "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as a prime example of this meme. Ironically, the original version of the cartoon contained some very commercial product placement for sponsor Coca-Cola, but I digress.)

Today, however, those obsessed with the supposed “War on Christmas” have given up any hope of separating the religious from the secular/commercial aspects of the holiday and are, in fact, now reduced to pathetic pleas to have Christmas ride along on the coattails of what is now a completely commercialized and secularized holiday. They seem now to have moved from “Keep Christ in Christmas” to “Keep ‘Merry Christmas’ in your commercials”.

And what do they intend to do to the businesses who fail to heed their demands? Pray for them to become enlightened? Ask them to reflect on the message of “Peace on Earth”? No, they threaten the very secular strategy of boycotts against those businesses which refuse to stick “Merry Christmas” - like a Post-It Note hastily slapped onto a more important document - onto their sales pitches. In short, they have gone from decrying the entanglement of religion and commerce to threats of harming the commerce of those businesses which now have the gall to REFUSE to entangle religion and commerce!

How the “War on Christmas” types fail to see how hopeless and undignified this makes them look is beyond me.

But then again, I guess these folks are content to use a snowman to illustrate their message of "bringing Christ back to Christmas", so what do I know?

As for me? Despite being an atheist, I will light up my tree, have fun with family, eat until just before the point of a catastrophic digestive tract explosion and give and receive cool gifts. After all, celebrations around the solstice season predate Christianity and are a fun break from the drudgery of everyday life.

And Baby Jesus? He can tag along if he likes.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

At Least the Announcer LOOKED Good...

More nitpicking about network newscasts...

A network newscaster actually said the following: "According to a posting on Tiger Woods' website, he will be taking an indefinite break from professional golf. There is no word on how long this break will last."

Uh... isn't that the DEFINITION of "indefinite"?


Friday, December 11, 2009

So THAT'S What Red Blood Cells Are For...

Two music historians are working at a University. One notices the other making notations on a very old sheet of music.
"What are you doing?" inquired one historian.
"Oh, I'm just making some notations on this old sheet music", replied the other.
"What era is that manuscript from?"
"It's a pre-classical piece from the late 18th century."
"Don't you know you shouldn't make revisions to a pre-classical work?"
"Why not?"
"Why, doesn't everybody know? If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!"

[I had just donated two pints of red blood cells when I thought of that. That probably explains a lot.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Aristotle Was Right

Anyone who has sat through a course on introductory philosophy or has read books on that subject should be familiar with Aristotle’s theory of the Golden Mean, which that sagacious philosopher elucidated in his work “Nicomachean Ethics”. The Golden Mean, to sum up in its most basic form, states that ethical/reasonable behavior is usually the “happy medium” between two extremes.
For example, a healthy diet would be viewed as one in which one eats a reasonable amount of food from a variety of sources. Eating too much can lead to obesity; eating too little can lead to malnutrition.
Same thing with, let’s say, alcohol. In moderation, it can bring feelings of felicity and, according to some studies, can actually help with circulatory health. Too much alcohol, of course, can lead to a wide range of problems for one’s mental and physical health.
Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I sincerely think our recent economic meltdown was caused by capitalism forgetting the Golden Mean and getting too extreme in its quest for maximizing profits. Working hard for a reasonable profit wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t enough to pay American workers well. In their quest for ever-increasing profits, capitalists went overseas to find ever cheaper labor. This appeared good to them in the short term, but while their profit margin increased, the overall result of those jobs leaving this country was that domestic unemployment increased and the tax base decreased while the drain on social services went up. In addition, those workers who were once able to afford the products produced by the companies they once worked for could no longer afford to purchase those products without going into debt.
Investors, meanwhile, not content with merely investing wisely, started playing games more akin to gambling than investing. Derivatives trading, short-selling stocks and Ponzi schemes replaced the wise investment of resources to the detriment of the entire economy.
Capitalism could work if only the capitalists would learn to take their profits in moderation. Unfortunately, they were more like those who eat or drink too much. They just HAD to have more, even if they knew overindulging would be bad for them and others in the long run.
While it’s true that over-taxing profits would be a disincentive to invest, allowing companies free reign to go hog-wild regardless of the consequences of their actions is just as bad. A lack of reasonable, sound regulations allowed this nation to become a “legumocracy”, i.e., one ruled by the “bean counters”. Their only concern was maximizing profits no matter how it may adversely affect others. Perhaps business schools should take a few hours out of teaching Adam Smith and substitute a bit of Aristotle. The businesspeople of tomorrow may learn something valuable

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why Bother?

News reports indicate that all Slim Fast canned products are being recalled due to possible contamination.
Apparently, the product may contain bacteria that could cause vomiting and diarrhea.
I wonder why the recall is even necessary? After all, Slim Fast is a weight loss product and, as any anorexic or bulimic knows, inducing vomiting and diarrhea are quite effective means of losing weight.
Just one o'those imponderable questions in life, I guess...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Observation

Perhaps it's just me, but I seem to have noticed something interesting. I occasionally have to pick up my son from High School after some extracurricular activity. I make sure to park in the proper area for pick up. I have noticed, though, that a number of people have a habit of parking in spots reserved for handicapped people while waiting to pick up their offspring. These people have neither a license or tag authorizing them to park in a spot reserved for handicapped persons.

Okay, that in itself is nothing extraordinary. There will always be jerks who flaunt the rules which are intended to help others. The observation I have made, however, is that nearly without exception the vehicles that plop themselves in the handicapped parking spots are either large SUVs or newer model luxury automobiles. I have seldom if ever seen a decade-old Chevy using these parking spaces without the proper authorization.

Am I just the victim of a biased viewpoint based on an insufficient sample size, or has anyone else out there noticed this? Just wondering...