Sometimes It Just Works

Inevitable humor in a merchandise display at Barnes & Noble, Woodinville, Washington, 28 November 2014. (Photo by bd)

Every once in a while, inevitable humor just happens to coincide with one’s mood. That nexus of circumstance is the difference between this sort of thing being mildly amusing or just annoying enough to make one cuss beneath his breath. On this occasion, the merchandise arrangement at a Barnes & Noble had everything it needed, though in this case the one factor that makes the joke work is beyond the control of any hapless employee who figured it would be negligent, even counterproductive, to skip the obvious. One would not be surprised, indeed, if these were the merchandising instructions. But with comedy, timing is everything, and yes, in those days ‘twixt Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is also more generous. Besides, it’s all more decent than I would be. You know, Keep calm and go f―

That is to say, er … um … ah … as we were saying.


Carry on, then.

Not quite the Christmas spirit

Because Christmas isn’t complete without its depressing tragedies:

A pastor fatally shot one of his eight children on Christmas Day during a dispute at the family home, where more than a dozen relatives had gathered to celebrate the holiday, police said.

Kirk Caldwell killed 21-year-old Jordan Caldwell after intervening in a violent confrontation between the son and a woman at around 2 p.m. at their home in suburban Philadelphia, Darby Borough police said Friday.

Kirk Caldwell fired a single shot, striking his son in the chest, police Chief Robert Smythe said. Jordan Caldwell died at a hospital shortly afterward, police said ….

…. As a pastor at End Times Harvest Mission for Christ in Philadelphia, Kirk Caldwell had spoken against violence at a vigil for a slain teen in Darby last summer.

“Retaliation is never the answer. Retaliation is only going to make it worse,” Caldwell said, according to the Daily Times of Delaware County.

According to the Associated Press, no charges had been filed against the forty-four year-old preacher as of Friday.

Still, it will probably make for some awkward family gatherings in the future.

(Thanks, of course, to Dan Savage for brightening my holiday.)

Nazi grinches

Oh, those evil Nazis. I mean, to the one, it’s hardly surprising. To the other, The Independent‘s tale of a very Reich Christmas is still fascinating.

Holiday postcard, 1914

The Nazis were not the first Germans to screw with Christmas, as this 1914 holiday postcard shows.

Sixty-five years after Germans celebrated the last Christmas of the Third Reich, a new exhibition at Cologne’s National Socialism Documentation Centre offers, for the first time, an insight into the elaborate propaganda methods devised by the Nazis in their campaign to take the Christ out of Christmas.

The exhibition contains selected items from a vast private collection of Nazi Christmas memorabilia, including swastika and Nazi SS tree decorations, Aryan department store catalogues featuring presents for boys – toy Nazi tanks, fighter planes and machine guns – and music for carols that have been stripped of their Christian content.

“The baby Jesus was Jewish. This was both a problem and a provocation for the Nazis,” explained Judith Breuer, who organised the exhibition using the items she and her mother collected at flea markets over 30 years. “The most popular Christian festival of the year did not fit in with their racist ideology. They had to react and they did so by trying to make it less Christian.”

The regime’s exploitation of Christmas began almost as soon as the Nazis took power in 1933. Party ideologists wrote scores of papers claiming that the festival’s Christian element was a manipulative attempt by the church to capitalise on what were really old Germanic traditions. Christmas Eve, they argued, had nothing to do with Christ but was the date of the winter solstice – the Nordic Yuletide that was “the holy night in which the sun was reborn”.

The swastika, they claimed, was an ancient symbol of the sun that represented the struggle of the Great German Reich. Father Christmas had nothing to do with the bearded figure in a red robe who looked like a bishop: the Nazis reinvented him as the Germanic Norse god Odin, who, according to legend, rode about the earth on a white horse to announce the coming of the winter solstice. Propaganda posters in the exhibition show the “Christmas or Solstice man” as a hippie-like individual on a white charger sporting a thick grey beard, slouch hat and a sack full of gifts.

But the star that traditionally crowns the Christmas tree presented an almost insurmountable problem. “Either it was the six-pointed star of David, which was Jewish, or it was the five-pointed star of the Bolshevik Soviet Union,” said Mrs Breuer. “And both of them were anathema to the regime.” So the Nazis replaced the star with swastikas, Germanic “sun wheels” and the Nordic “sig runes” used by the regime’s fanatical Waffen SS as their insignia.

Continue reading

Heckling the holidays

A few thoughts on this holiday season.

In the first place, I had not intended to say much specifically about the fact that Christmas is upon us, but it really is hard to ignore the obvious.

In the first place, we must recall that it is the giving, and not the getting, that is important through this season. Focusing on what we get, or what we expect, generally leads to pettiness, as a couple of simple examples will show. Because, in the first place, as they say, “It’s the thought that counts”. Which raises the question of thoughtless—or, if that word is too accusing for you, how about “low-thought” (97% thought-free!)—gifts.

A gift that went by the wayside this year was a small stocking-stuffer my mother had picked up for my daughter. Hairbands. Simple, necessary, and thoughtful. In the end, that gift has been nullified by a self-serve snip job; it didn’t really occur to me that the scissors were that available to my five year-old, but I was wrong. Whoops. No blood, lesson learned, life goes on. But the hairbands are officially useless. Which is a relief, I suppose, because while I’m saying more about it here than I ever would specifically, I’m still curious why so many people—and not just my mother—ignored a simple notion. Many hairbands are held together with a piece of crimped metal. Just look at the display in the store if you’re a shorthair and thus have little or no idea what I’m talking about. I have long held that these crimped sleeves are bad for long hair. Experience teaches that they break and pull out a lot of hair over time. I stopped using them a long time ago for my own hair. And over the years, people have, in kind gestures, provided me with hairbands that I do not use. And like I said, it’s not about this one gift from my mother. Even my daughter’s mother, who allegedly agrees with my assessment of the things, would buy them. I don’t resent the gifts, as such; I’m just glad it’s not something like a tie, where someone might wonder that I never use the gift they gave. And nor is it consistent; neither of the givers I’ve mentioned here are serial offenders on this count.

Myself, I bought a pair of pants the other day, and I’m glad I didn’t buy them as a gift for anyone else. I only bought the pants, quite literally, because they were there, and priced at a whole five dollars. I actually had to ask my brother, who was at the store with me, if I was reading correctly. We puzzled over the price, and then realized there were only a few pairs of these pants left. I did manage to find some in my size, though, and the issue was settled. But as anyone knows, men don’t actually need to try on pants. The size sticker on the leg is all I needed.

It turns out, though, that clearing limited stock was not the reason these pants were five dollars. It turns out that they are part of a signature line, Kenneth Cole’s “Reaction”. When I told a friend about the pants yesterday, she informed me that there is, apparently, a cologne and apparel line by this name; it makes sense, but who the hell is Kenneth Cole, anyway? Well, it turns out he’s a cheap bastard price-conscious designer. Snipping away the tags in order to wash the Chinese-made pants, I realized that the reason the extra buttons were included in a plastic zip-lock baggie more suitable for delivering crack was that the actual buttons sewn to the pants were ready to fall off. I expect to get one wearing of these pants before the poorly-threaded buttons simply fall off. Then again, if I get one use out of these pants, they’ve fulfilled their five-dollar mission.

Bottom line: I’m glad I didn’t buy any five-dollar pants as a gift for anyone else. Really, what would that have said?

And, yes, I understand. For some people, clearance price is what they can afford. And, yes, I understand that when it’s children you’re giving to, merchandise says more than sentiment ever could. “Bling”, as such, speaks louder than love.

And, besides, my daughter picked out some hairbands at the store not too long ago. Her criteria was the packaging, and she insisted on a pack that resembled a crayon box, and had thirty-two or so pastel-colored hairbands held together with crimped metal sleeves. And then, a couple days later, she swiped the scissors from the basket atop the fridge and rendered the question moot.

But when it’s not children learning by our giving the values of commercialization, effective branding, and how to envy the herd, some different rules apply. For years, I’ve had a bizarre relationship with Christmas. I don’t want to be a Scrooge. I’d just rather leave it to people who believe in things like saviors named Jesus Christ.

I’m not a Christian, and have not been for years. From the time I was allowed to make the decision for myself, this has been true. I’m a confirmed Lutheran and a willing graduate of a Jesuit high school, but I cannot recall a time when I ever actually, genuinely believed. Like many, I recall saying some prayers as a child because I was scared silly of God’s wrath, but I got over it. I think. Entering adulthood, I even attempted to withdraw from Christmas. It wasn’t my holiday. I actually tried telling people that they didn’t need to buy me gifts. Contrary to the stories we hear about parents using Christmas gifts to bribe religious faith out of their kids (“I guess that means you don’t believe in Christmas; I’ll just take back all your presents”), the notion that I did not want people buying me stuff actually offended a few people who actually looked forward to giving me stuff.



I mean, what the hell am I supposed to say to that?

Additionally, while I’m not Christian, certain lessons did stick with me through the years. Before I dropped out of college, I worked in specialty retail shop well-placed at a mall in Oregon. And I think it was July, 1994, when I found myself unpacking Christmas merchandise and signs to remind customers to do their holiday shopping early. I remember this because it was disturbing; people were already complaining that Christmas had trespassed on Thanksgiving and was creeping toward Hallowe’en, but July? It just seemed perverse. More than any affront to Jesus or Christian faith or Christmas itself, though, I simply found it a testament of what’s wrong with capitalism. (What? I was still a college student. That’s what college is for, right?) So more than the crass commercialization of Christmas, what has long offended me about the pop-culture holiday is that it’s the time of year we’re supposed to be good and helpful and decent to one another. I remember some of my Christian indoctrination, and part of what stuck is the idea that every day is a fine time for compassion and decency. For some reason, it seems our annual ritual of goodwill—also known as the holiday season—is expected to suffice. This should be especially apparent, since we’re only a couple of weeks away from the official start of political primary season.

And I am, indeed, a child of good fortune. My entire life, in some contexts, and certainly the whole of my comfort and opportunity most recently, depends on the compassion and goodwill of others. Those who know me are painfully aware of how I’ve fallen to pieces over the years, and also how unique are the conditions of my attempted recovery. The idea that anybody should be giving me any wrapped and tied Christmas presents strikes me as absurd. But now, as then, there are those whose hearts, it seems, would break if they didn’t.

The whole spectacle of the Christmas myth and what it brings to those around me is insane. It is a bizarre ritual that I would indict for missing its own point, except that nobody I know really cares, so it seems rather petty to worry about it. After all, as the season reminds, I’m one of the luckiest bastards on the planet, and it’s hard to sincerely complain. And, yes, the hurt that comes with knowing what an utter disappointment I’ve become is more acute during the period between Hallowe’en and the New Year, and drinking heavily for the latter doesn’t seem to help.

If you had what I have, well, of course you would see the absurdity—recognize a certain insanity—about the Christmas season. But, strangely, that’s part of the point. What I have is worth more than I can express, and I cannot wish anything less for anyone else. And I know that sounds paradoxical in a certain way. Again, that’s part of the point. But it should not detract from the obvious. If I am worthy of so much love and compassion and goodwill, it would seem that the same is the least I could wish for anyone else. And this, more than hairbands or five-dollar pants, more than brand-names and “bling”—more than the economic necessity of a yearly ritual providing, in some cases, a fifth of the year’s receipts and more—seems to be the purpose of the season.

Ahmadinejad—the Official Blog

This is just one of those times when I’m not quite sure what to think. I mean, it’s amazing to me, in a way, that I could be remotely sympathetic to the President of Iran, but a question does leap to mind. When is President Bush going to get a blog?

I mean, who wants a Christmas wish from Ahmadinejad?

In the Name of Almighty God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

Merry Christmas to everyone!

My sincere congratulations to everyone for the Glorious and Auspicious Birthday of Divine Prophet – confirmed and authenticated by Gabriel, the angel of Divine revelation – the Obedient of Almighty God,

Jesus Christ, the Messiah (peace be upon Him)

He was a messenger of peace, devotion and love based upon monotheism and justice. He was raised in His Mother’s hand – Virgin Mary (peace be upon her) – that Almighty God stood her as impeccable and exalted her above the women of the world. The Mother and the Son that in the Divine Sight are reputable and prestigious. And they are positioned by God – The All Wise- at a sublime level.

See? State-sponsored religion is just as annoying coming from the Iranian president as from our own. I’m waiting for Ahmadinejad to write a post about who or what God ordered him to invade, but he’s got one up on our man on that point.

What gets me is that this will work for him on a couple levels at least. Glancing about, I see he’s got a blogroll that includes the official website of the Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khameni, the … um … okay, The Office of the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran News Service, the Islamic Republic News Agency, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting website, and Press TV. Really, I’d make a LOLcatz joke, but … well, no. They’re not funny. The catz or jokes about the damn catz. And I’m a cat person.

Anyway … Ahmadinejad’s blog provides a minor portal for people who are actually interested in knowing who President Bush wants to bomb. For instance, Maryam Torabi interviews Mrs. Fatema Alia head of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee for Women and Family Affairs, as well as an active member of the Majlis Cultural Commission. (Okay, if you say so.)

Q. Islam encourages women to be active members of the society while considering them important pillars of families. Islam also places the central responsibility for the upbringing of children upon women. How can women in today’s world balance family matters against social responsibilities?

A. Women can have social responsibilities without necessarily being employed. The society can greatly benefit from women who voluntarily take part in social activities and influence the culture, politics and economics of their country. What is important is that the position of the family as the main building block of the society should always be cherished.

When employed, women can benefit from features such as flextime and maternity leaves. They can also use technologies like the Internet to continue to work at home while caring for their families.

The main issue here is that the family, which is an abode where love and friendship rule, should never be transformed to a mere dwelling deficient in the spirit of companionship.

Q. Does such balance exist in the world today?

A. In most parts of the world, in the West in particular, women are merely objects of collective materialistic values. The notion of complete equality between men and women with no consideration for their biological and emotional differences has distanced women from their inborn nature.

Many women have traded in family values to be able to work. In the West, people are changing the laws of nature such that family values have been forgotten and even same-sex relationships are emerging.

The modern world seems to be greatly concerned about women and makes favorable promises to them. It promises them freedom from slavery, male-domination, and even the established institution of marriage, but what does it actually have in store? Nothing but exploitation, injustice, oppression, aggression, harassment, neurosis and indignity.

You know, “Revolutionary” language is just annoying. This is part of why the Revolution cannot be forced. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Many American homes have become “mere dwellings” that are “deficient in the spirit of companionship”, and I agree with a certain premise about the problem of promoting women as sexual objects, but I must disagree with Mrs. Alia and note that the solution is not to reduce the humanity of women. And, frankly, that’s how I see the hijab, and how it sounds when I hear how “The notion of complete equality between men and women with no consideration for their biological and emotional differences has distanced women from their inborn nature.”

But I digress. It is, in the end, possible to learn something about our Iranian neighbors/future cannon fodder. Even people who are just looking to complain about Iran can find something to suit their needs, like the interview with Mrs. Alia. And I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have strayed over to without the official blog. So there’s one. Learning. For instance, I learned that President Ahmadinejad felicitated Kenya for its Independence Day. I figured that would have been illegal in the Islamic Republic, but he is the president, and if there’s one thing the last several years have taught me, it’s that presidents can do whatever they want.

They don’t felicitate in Middle America, do they?

And for some reason I found it odd that the Saudis had to officially invite Ahmadinejad to participate in the Hajj, but then again I’d never really stopped to think about what a pain in the ass that must be for customs. I wonder if Ahmadinejad is at home thinking, “Well, crap, now they’ve invited me. I feel kind of obliged, now.”

But beyond picking up news and perspective from behind the Muslim Veil (okay, that joke sucked), Ahmadinejad scores points for blogging. Some of this is inherent: he gets to put out some sort of official word at will, and it sounds somehow more personal being typed by an underling than being read to the press by an underling. I suppose I should give him the benefit of the doubt. The page does look clumsy in English, although the grammar and punctuation are marginally better than I would expect of President Bush. I mean, at least Ahmadinejad is in the ballpark.

And that PR function has two edges, both of which play to his advantage. The Iranian President can appeal to the world with genteel considerations on life, the Universe, and everything, and can furthermore embarrass Americans just by giving them the freedom to comment. Some of the better comments from Americans:

  • “Colby Brown”— God bless Iran, Bush and Isreal are unfair to Iran. I am sorry for the way you were treated at our university. All americans are not the same as Bush. Peace god bless Iran and the rest of the world!
  • “ken mcfly”—die slow …
  • “Hate You”— Shut up please, would you? I get headache reading your nonsense stuff.‎‎

And my favorite:

  • “Yao Ming”—You are a nigger.

I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to say to that? (“USA! USA! Woot-woot-woot-woot!”) To the other, what if this was just some propaganda bit? Who the hell in Iran would have come up with “Yao Ming” and “You are a nigger”?

And, seriously, can you imagine if Ahmadinejad shows up for commencement or something at Tehran U, and instead of shouting “Death to the dictator!” the students start shouting, “Nig-ger! Nig-ger! Nig-ger!”

Would that not make the best YouTube clip ever? I mean, we could be so proud for having exported one of our deepest-seeded hatreds to Iran.

Because somewhere out there, I know, there’s at least one of my American neighbors who is heartbroken by that notion. “Oh, did they have to go and call him a nigger?”

Oh, ye gads:

  • “John Jacobs”—I hate you. you are retarted. that simple mentally retarted

That’s it. No more reading Ahmadinejad’s blog at not quite half-past four. Goddamn Americans. Must be a propaganda job. And “Yao Ming” is the best joke ever written by an Iranian president.

(Oh, right.)

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. President.  Get used to it.