Saturday, December 29, 2007

Word on the Street

    Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right. -Laurens van der Post, explorer and writer (1906-1996)
That quotation--as usual, filched from the wonderful newsletter A Word a Day, seems particularly fitting these days, both politically and religiously speaking.

Here are a few others that caught my eye:
    Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror. -Carlos Fuentes (b. 1928)

    To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none. -Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)

    A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. -Joseph Conrad, novelist (1857-1924)

    As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death. -Leonardo da Vinci, painter, engineer, musician, and scientist (1452-1519)

    Friendship, like credit, is highest where it is not used. -Elbert Hubbard, author, editor, printer (1856-1915)

    The most civilized people are as near to barbarism as the most polished steel is to rust. Nations, like metals, have only a superficial brilliancy. -Antoine de Rivarol, epigrammatist (1753-1801)

    Love involves a peculiar, unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding. -Diane Arbus, photographer (1923-1971)

    I had a lover's quarrel with the world. -Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Fair and Balanced," Tee-Hee

In case there's anyone who actually believes that Faux News is really "news" and not just the propaganda arm of the GOP, here's this:

"LATEST NEWS" item on front page linked not to news story, but to Republican blog post

Summary: The front page of contained a headline under the "LATEST NEWS" tab that read "Report: Over 400 Scientists Dispute Man-Made Warming," the link to which led to a post on the blog of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) -- not a news report.
On December 21, the front page of contained a headline under the "LATEST NEWS" tab that read "Report: Over 400 Scientists Dispute Man-Made Warming." However, the purported "LATEST NEWS" item did not link to a news report but, rather, to a post on "The Inhofe EPW Press Blog," the blog of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking minority member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (emphasis added)

Read the whole report at Media Matters for America here.

Your job now is this: 'Splain to me about "Fair and Balanced," and 'splain to me about the "liberal bias" in the media.

A Philosophical Inquiry

And now we pause to ask ourselves a Philosophical Question, viz., is there anything more enjoyable, more ineffably satisfying than pointing out other people's mistakes? Judging from the comments I receive at work, I must conclude that the answer is no. In that spirit, then, I direct your attention to the following exhibit:

The above was a MyPoints offer that landed in my inbox this morning. I've never belonged to any of the book clubs in question--at various times I've been a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild, the Quality Paperback Book Club, and the Detective Book Club (which in many ways was the best of the bunch)--and so I render no judgment upon them. Well, one judgment: True, my children are now teenagers, and so I am not as conversant on the topic of children's books as once was the case...but I am almost positive that James Patterson's work is seldom categorized as children's literature (see the second item in the illustration above).

As we say in the trade: Whoops.

As we also say in the trade: Glad it wasn't me, hee-hee-hee!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Season's Holidays!

It has been pointed out to me that Christmas has come and gone with nary a word from me. (Nary a Christmas letter, either, but that's another story. Anyhow, I'm given to understand by the previous post that the Armenian and Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas next month, so I'm still in the zone.) Well, what is there to say? The holiday has religious significance or not, depending on your point of view. I'm fully aware that Jesus was not born on December 25 (so too, it appears, are our Armenian and Orthodox cousins), but that makes me no never-mind: Since we know not the date Jesus was born, it hardly matters what date(s) we've settled on to celebrate same.

Religion aside, I am as always appreciative of the time to slow down and catch our collective breath a little, and to spend "quality time," whatever that is, with the family. It's a very busy time in our little household these days, and any opportunity to not have to be in two or more places simultaneously is welcome.

Of course, no Christmas season would be complete without this or that element of the lunatic fringe insisting there's a "war" on Christmas. (Is it just me, or is everything a "war" these days--war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror. And does it not strike you that we are intent on declaring wars that can't be won? How, for instance, do you "win" a war on drugs? Who signs the surrender papers?) I was especially amused by this post, commenting on a typically hard-hitting article in the local rag ("Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays: Season's greetings spat rankles some, mystifies others"), which ran earlier this month:

    As the old saying from "Oklahoma" goes: "We've gone about as far as we can go!" in letting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other non-Christian groups literally push "Christ" out of "Christmas." And we're so caught up in our materialistic world, we no longer remember that our country was founded on Christian principles. For us, when shopping, if there's "No Christmas" ... there's "No Cash".

    If people want to be really honest, most of today's major "holidays" started out as "holy days" such as Christmas, New Year's, Easter, and Halloween ("all hallows eve" - the feast of all saints).

    Yet, when the chips are really down, like 9-11, everyone gets down on their knees once again. When we lose a beloved family member, we pray s/he will be received by the Lord. But how soon we forget!

    If other groups don't want to partake in our observances and celebrations, let them observe their own, but don't scuttle ours! We were here first, and by God, we'll remain here under His care!
    - Rod Simon

Every time I read some quarter-baked commentary such as the above, I renew my ACLU membership. And I'm sure Simon didn't realize what he was saying (I could stop there, but I forge ahead) when he wrote "...our country was founded on Christian principles...." Ooops--"Christian principles," not "Christianity." Big difference. Not gonna score too many right-wingnut points with that kind of a slip: The object of the game is to redraw history by claiming, loudly and frequently, that the USA is a "Christian nation," not a nation founded on "Christian principles." Tsk tsk. (One does wonder what those "principles" might be. I tend to think of things like "love thy neighbor" and "do unto others," but one has long detected a strong disdain for such namby-pamby "liberal" sentiments among those who brag the loudest about what swell Christians they are.)

As a love of irony, I must point out the further deliciousness of the longer passage in which "Christian principles" appears:

    And we're so caught up in our materialistic world, we no longer remember that our country was founded on Christian principles. For us, when shopping, if there's "No Christmas" ... there's "No Cash".

I'm not quite sure how the "Christian principles" bit fits into the "materialistic world" bit, but no matter: I'm madly in love with the condemnation of the "materialistic world" followed immediately by the oh-so-subtle threat to retailers--no Christmas, no cash. "Man, I hate the commercialization of you take American Express?"

Then there's the amazingly stupid conclusion:

    We were here first, and by God, we'll remain here under His care!

Actually, I'm pretty sure that "we" (white Europenas) were here second. And I'm pretty sure that it doesn't matter. (I feel much the same--cold--about all of these self-aggrandizing "first" churches: Who the heck cares?) Going back to one of those "Christian principles" that "Christians" seem to like to ignore, the exhortation is generally rendered something like "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you"--not, "Do to others whatever you damn well please, for you were here first"...

Frankly, I have to wonder about the faith of some of the "devout"--how strong, how deep is the faith of someone who seems to put so much stock in externals? I make no claim to being much of a Christian, and as I'm wont to say I'm certainly not the sort of Catholic that the boys in Rome dream of, but it seems that my belief system and spiritual foundation are strong enough to withstand being greeted with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"; with seeing "Christmas" rendered "Xmas" (note to the illiterati: that's not an X!); with seeing eight tiny reindeer instead of a manger; and with the knowledge that for some people Christmas is no more than a few days off from work. I don't mean to brag, but none of that has anything at all to do with my attitudes toward God, toward Jesus, toward Creation...toward Christmas! Those attitudes, an odd assortment of orthodoxy and heresy, seem pretty solid whether the local five-and-dime is piping in sacred or secular Christmas music.

So I ask you: If a lousy Christian like me isn't shaken by hearing "Season's Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas," why are all the truly fabulous "Christians" driven to spiritual crisis by same?

Obviously, the peace and goodwill that I have always taken to be a hallmark of the Christmas season have not thoroughly descended upon those who would purport to be its great "defender." Maybe that's the real "war" on Christmas: hard-heartedness and intolerance. And that war would be worth fighting.

Ironic, No?

This today on

Priests brawl at Jesus' birthplace

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests attacked each other with brooms and stones inside the Church of the Nativity as long-standing rivalries erupted in violence during holiday cleaning on Thursday.

The basilica, built over the grotto in Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus was born, is administered jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities.

Any perceived encroachment on one group's turf can touch off vicious feuds.

On Thursday, dozens of priests and cleaners were scrubbing the church ahead of the Armenian and Orthodox Christmas, celebrated in early January. Thousands of tourists visited the church this week for Christmas celebrations.

But the clean-up turned ugly after some of the Orthodox faithful stepped inside the Armenian church's section, touching off a scuffle between about 50 Greek Orthodox and 30 Armenians.

Palestinian police, armed with batons and shields, quickly formed a human cordon to separate the two sides so the cleaning could continue, then ordered an Associated Press photographer out of the church.

Four people, some with blood running from their faces, were slightly wounded.

Well, sure. How else would we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Gift

A day too late for Christmas, but for Boxing Day here's a batch of quotations from, as usual, A Word a Day:

A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes. -James Kern Feibleman, philosopher and psychiatrist (1904-1987)

That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not. -James Kern Feibleman, philosopher and psychiatrist (1904-1987)

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

The ingenuities we practice in order to appear admirable to ourselves would suffice to invent the telephone twice over on a rainy summer morning. -Brendan Gill, writer and preservationist (1914-1997)

To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior "righteous indignation" -- this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats. -Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

Do something for somebody every day for which you do not get paid. -Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965)

A politician is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation. -James Freeman Clarke, preacher and author (1810-1888)

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. -W.H. Auden, poet (1907-1973)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

'Twas the Season

A message with the following subject line arrived in the inbox yesterday--Christmas Eve day--from Lands' End:

    Everybody wins at the Winter's End Savings Event

That may well be true, but I couldn't help but think that the folks at Lands' End must know something we don't. Here's why:

  • The first day of winter was December 22
  • Christmas Eve was, as so often seems to happen, December 24.
  • They're plugging their "winter's end" event two days after the start of winter.

I can but conclude, therefore, that the folks at Lands' End are anticipating a very short winter. Pass the iced tea, please!