In the years after I first read about it, I was enough of a bore about the concept in the editorial suite of The State that one April 1st, at the instigation of then-Publisher Ann Caulkins, my colleagues played a truly elaborate April Fool’s prank on me that was entirely based on some supposed new research debunking subsidiarity. It was probably the most esoteric, nerdy prank ever played on anyone in South Carolina history. The sort of thing the geeks on “The Big Bang” might play on each other, only with them it would be about physics instead of political philosophy — some knee-slapper having to do with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, perhaps….
In the end, the joke didn’t work out, because I was too impatient to play along. It went like this: We gathered for our morning (or perhaps it was the weekly, since the publisher was there, eager to participate in the gag) editorial board meeting, a session in which all sorts of issues were thrown onto the table for discussion so we could discuss and arrive at positions for editorials.
As we started, Cindi Scoppe produced a long, dry-looking document, bound in the kind of folder we used in school for term papers, that she said contained some important new findings that completely debunked the validity of subsidiarity. She said they were all sure I’d be interested. She urged me to read it immediately.
I got irritated instead of interested. We had a lot of issues to talk about, things we needed to write about. And they wanted to sit there and watch me read something and have my mind magically changed on something this complex? It was absurd anyway; there was no way this could, in a few minutes’ reading, disprove something like that.
But they urged me, “Just look over it!” and “Just scan it briefly!” Which was even more ridiculous, because a mere scan would never convince me of such a thing. I kept putting it down and trying to move on, but finally Cindi said something like, “Just look at the last page!”
So, in order to end it, I did. And of course, it said, “April Fool’s.”
Yeah, OK. Ha, and also ha.
I feel a bit bad for ruining my friends’ fun, but there it was. It had probably been funny when they first thought of it. And it was nice that it was so personalized, so esoteric, so very much something that would appeal only to the kind of dweeb who is on an editorial board. It was, in its way, thoughtful towards me and who I was.
Which reminds me of an old poster I found in my closet while cleaning up the other day. I didn’t go to the conference, but I liked the poster. I’ll see if I can roll it out and take a picture of it…
I reacted to that by tweeting, “People are still feuding over this?” Somehow, I had made it this far through the season without hearing about it. But that must be because I’m getting better at filtering out Kulturkampf nonsense. Anyway, my former neighbor and our sometime (but not in quite a while — ahem!) commenter Jen Fitz responded to my tweet thusly:
One day all the people working so hard to be offended this month will band together and just admit they can’t endure basic human interactions and everyday friendliness. Then they will immediately splinter again, but this time in vicious feuds over the correct way to take offense.
Yup. Anyway, back to what I was saying, if that “war” is still going on, I think maybe it’s now outstripped Afghanistan as “America’s longest.”
When did it start? I dunno. If you trying Googling that, you get an assortment of dates. You also get different accounts about who started it. I tend to think it was started by the simple-minded folks who started getting upset about “Happy Holidays” and launching verbal attacks on Starbucks. But even they were reacting to something, as the History Channel website notes:
Despite the commercialization of Christmas, it was still considered mainly a religious holiday for much of the 20th century. Over the last decade or so, secularists, humanists and atheists became more vocal about the separation of church and state….
When some popular retailers stopped using the word Christmas in their promotional materials and supposedly instructed their employees to avoid saying, “Merry Christmas,” it lit a fire under many Christians.
It also fired-up several cable news hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, both of whom many believe took charge of the modern-day War on Christmas and made it a grass-roots campaign. As word got out, hordes of Christians signed petitions and boycotted the stores, forcing some to change their stance. Other stores continued to use general terms to refer to December 25….
That’s about when the actual “shooting” started in this “war.”
Libertarians and the Identity Politics crowd, of course, returned fire immediately, and this column, though coolly and civilly presented, reflects the ones-and-zeroes approach of so many on both left and right today, describing the “war” in these terms: “I am declaring my allegiance to one idea of America that opposes another: inclusive vs. exclusive.”
Unlike Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, Kate Cohen seems to be a kind and reasonable person. But she is still way too ready to draw battle lines and leap to choose a side.
My position is different. My position is, there is no war. Never has been. It’s particularly absurd if people who do believe in the war say it started in recent decades, with the adoption of “Happy Holidays.”
Because that was always with us. Or long enough for living, mortal humans to say “always.” The first date I come up with when I Google it is “by the 1860s.” I’m old, but that predates even me. I’m also a bit too young to remember the launch of the song “Happy Holiday,” back in 1942. Of course, Henry Ford would have had an immediate and nasty explanation for why Irving Berlin chose that wording. Folks may associate him with the F-150 today, but he’s probably our nation’s most prominent anti-Semite:
Henry Ford was an avid proponent of the idea that someone — or more precisely, some group — was waging a war on Christmas. “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth,” according to The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, a widely distributed set of anti-Semitic articles published in the automobile magnate’s newsweekly during the 1920s. “People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.”…
I was about 4 years old at the time the TV show “Happy Holidays from Bing and Frank” aired. But by that time, I saw and heard the phrase everywhere. I didn’t take any note of the John Birch Society’s screed in 1959 against the “assault on Christmas” carried out by “UN fanatics…” Of course, as far as could see, nobody during my childhood took much notice of that group except MAD magazine, which gave me a somewhat comical impression of the organization.
Anyway, the phrase was everywhere when I was growing up, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the ACLU — although the ACLU would later do what it could to stir up unnecessary fights over creches and the like. The phrase dates to a time before the Culture Wars. And it always made sense. And you didn’t have to be lighting the menorah to see that.
Even Christians — assuming they were knowledgeable about their own faith, and their own culture (which some Christian sects, and especially those individuals whose embrace of “Christianity” extends no further than having a cultural identity to cling to) — had, and have, good reason to say “Happy Holidays.” Particularly if they’re Catholic, or Anglican, or Lutheran or Methodist. But any Christian does. Let’s see… between the semi-secular Thanksgiving and the end of the 12 days of Christmas, in the Western church we have:
Advent, beginning four Sundays before Dec. 25. That’s right — despite almost everything you hear out in the commercial-cultural complex this time of year, it is not “Christmas” at the moment. Not yet. It’s Advent — which lasts longer.
The Feast of Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8. Although admittedly, this one’s not huge among most of our Protestant friends.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12. Of course, I don’t suppose many of the folks who complain about “Happy Holidays” celebrate this one. They’re too busy being furious that people who do celebrate it keep trying to get into our country. Even though, since 1945, she has been the patron of all the Americas.
Hanukkah, which is going on right now. Not Christian, you say? Well, the three most prominent figures in the Christmas were Jewish, so it seems related to me. Hanukkah sameach, Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
The 12 days of Christmas, the first one being on Dec. 25. Of course, we don’t know what time of year Jesus was born, but these are the days when we celebrate the Nativity.
The Feast of the Holy Family, on the Sunday between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. Oops, there we go again — being reminded that Yeshua bar Yosef was one of those Hanukkah people.
The Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. Remember, we don’t sing “We Three Kings” before that day.
And according to my math, that means we Christians have multiple, plural holidays during this period that many oversimplify as “the Christmas season.” I may be leaving some holidays out there, but I need to draw this silly subject to a close at some point.
Which I will now do, leaving you with a “Merry Christmas” since that’s the next one up. But I also wish you happiness on all these other holy days. Yeah, folks, that’s the etymological root of “holidays.” We may have added a lot of secular meaning to them, but they are holy days.
I’m kind of down at the moment because I’m not out trick-or-treating with my grandchildren. I’ve got some bug that’s been going through the family, and I’m not up to all the walking.
Even though I look forward to it each year.
Anyway, my wife is dealing with the mobs of goblins passing through our neighborhood, and I’m going to go down and help her — probably with a mask on — in a minute. First, I thought I’d share something Bryan Caskey shared a couple of days ago. These are, collectively, the best costumes I’ve seen this year…
I said I wouldn’t have time to post today (again), but I thought I’d just put up a quick post before the subject is too old.
I spoke briefly with my brother on Sunday, and he told me that he was at Lake Hartwell with his family to watch fireworks (he lives in Greenville, and that is apparently somewhere Greenville people go). My reaction was something to the effect of “Better you than me,” and he said it wasn’t his idea; he had just gone along with the inevitable, as dads often do. This led to a brief discussion in which we found we were both, at our now-advanced ages, quite unenchanted by such spectacles.
As I said to him, such displays have little attraction to me as a spectator activity. I enjoyed blowing stuff up as a kid. I can even recall enjoying writing my name in the air with sparklers, as tame as those are.
I’m wondering — is that behind your house in Foster Village? I ask because the background looks a lot like the view from my backyard when we lived in that subdivision. We had this unbelievable view of both Pearl Harbor and the Waianae range in the background. (The lots were terraced so that our backyard lawn was higher than the roof of the house behind us, making for an amazing panorama of southwestern Oahu.)
In fact, I’m flashing on a memory here. Unlike Burl, I wasn’t a master builder of models. I didn’t paint the pilot or other small details. I’d put on the decals, of course, but beyond that my finishing touches didn’t extend beyond maybe heating the point of a pin and using it to melt machine-gun holes in the wings and fuselage.
I definitely didn’t bother with details on the little model of a V1 buzz bomb that I test-flew in that backyard in Foster Village. I built it around a firecracker, wedged into the fuselage tightly by wrapping toilet paper around it, and threaded the fuse out through a hole before final gluing. (The V1, a fairly featureless rocket, was way too boring to look at, and there were no more than five or six pieces in the kit — the only thing that made it worth building was to blow it up.)
Then I took it out there, lit the fuse, and threw it. It worked — green plastic blasted everywhere. But it was over so quick, it didn’t seem worth the time it took to build the model, even as simple as it was. So that’s the last time I did that…
Anyway, that sort of thing was cool — for a kid. But the idea of watching someone else’s fireworks go off — especially if I had to fight traffic or get into a crowd to watch it… well, that’s only slightly more enticing than watching someone else play golf. Playing golf is fine. Watching someone else do it is rather mind-numbing.
I did, a few years back, enjoy watching the fireworks over the center of London on New Year’s Eve. But that’s because I was miles away, standing atop Primrose Hill in a park, amid a fairly chill (and not overly large) group of Londoners who had walked there for the same purpose. The fun then was less in the distant fireworks, and more in the novelty of the situation — walking through London in the middle of the night, seeing the other folks arriving from various directions pushing prams and such, and watching the Brits launch those quiet UFOs I wrote about. I had never seen those before. It was all quite pleasant.
But the rest of the time, I find fireworks fairly tiresome — the neighbors setting them off as soon as the sun goes down at certain times of the year (which always makes me glad I no longer have a dog and am forced by such thoughtlessness to try to calm the poor creature down), strangers doing them on the beach when I’m trying to have a nice evening walk there, and so forth. And the idea of driving out of town to watch other people set them off is pretty unthinkable. Although, of course, we do things for kids and grandkids.
So I’m just wondering: Do you like these things? Why? Or why not, for that matter. Your reasons may differ from mine…
The terrible image I took of fireworks over London on my Blackberry, because that’s what I was carrying back on the evening of Dec. 31, 2010…
I can think of nothing to say on this St. Patrick’s Day that isn’t said far better by this video.
The little girl is Emma Sophia, she’s 4 years old and she lives in Kinsale in County Cork. She’s become a bit of an Internet star during the pandemic, but as you see, it hasn’t spoiled her a bit.
Blarney Castle, March 17, 2019.
The rest of us haven’t had a proper St. Paddy celebration this year or the last, but here’s a picture from the one two years ago, which I spent in Waterford, Blarney and Killarney.
In fact, two pictures from that day — one taken of Blarney Castle, and the other of a tall fella I encountered in Killarney. The parade had just ended, and he was letting folks have their pictures taken with him. Looks like someone who’d be kind to Americans, doesn’t he? Don’t ask me to explain the costume on the lady posing with him. A man in the same garb was taking the picture — there had been a whole troop of them in the parade…
Actually, I now realize I shared these same pictures, or ones very like them, last year. Oh, well — this holiday is all about tradition, so I don’t mind repeating myself. Ignore me, and go back and listen to little Emma Sophia again…
We’re also waiting for confirmation that not only Donald Trump, but Mitch McConnell, will soon be out of power.
I wish you joy, Joe Biden!
Of course, it’s not certain. Life contains surprises. For instance, I was sure that today was Epiphany, but when I got my daily email of today’s readings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it said, “Wednesday after Epiphany.” Well, yeah, I know we celebrated it on Sunday, and sang “We Three Kings” and all, but I thought today was the actual day.
Nobody tells us converts anything.
Anyway, Christmas is over, especially for Donald Trump and, we hope, the aforementioned Mitch McConnell. I wasn’t sure how much I cared about what was going to happen in Georgia (I just wanted it to be over so I didn’t have to hear about it anymore), but the idea of saying “buh-bye” to Mitch is rather charming, I find.
Anyway, I post this as a place for y’all to comment on the many things happening around us at the moment…
But I liked “The Little Drummer GIRL.” I get points for that, right?
I wrote about this before, didn’t I? But I can’t find it, so…
I happened to run across Alexandra Petri’s piece from two years ago, “A ranking of 100 — yes, 100 — Christmas songs,” and I nodded approvingly once again, and so I thought I’d share it. Even if it means I’m doing so, you know, once again…
One nice thing about this year is that I haven’t been to the mall even once, and I don’t think I’ve been in a single store where such drivel was being pumped at me, so that’s a point in favor of 2020. There’s that, and Joe Biden getting elected. Yay, 2020.
100. “Little Drummer Boy.” My hatred for this song is well-documented. I think it is because the song takes approximately 18 years to sing and does not rhyme. The concept of the song is bad. The execution of the song is bad. There is not even an actual drum in the dang song, there is just someone saying PA-RUM-PA-PUM-PUM, which, frankly, is not a good onomatopoeia and probably is an insult to those fluent in Drum. I cannot stand it. Nothing will fix it, even the application of David Bowie to it. Every year I say, “I hate this song,” and every year people say, “Have you heard David Bowie’s version?” Yes. Yes, I have. It is still an abomination.
Quite right. Although as I said the other day in my piece on the passing of John le Carré (another bad point about 2020 was losing him and a bunch of other cool people), I really like “The Little Drummer Girl,” so maybe my feminist friends will give me some points for that. Which would be a rare treat…
Since we’re now in the “War on Christmas” season, when we are subjected to all sorts of odd assertions — here’s an example — I thought I’d share this change of pace.
I’m on Stan Dubinsky‘s email list, and he emails all sorts of interesting things. Sometimes about politics, sometimes about Israel, sometimes about linguistics. Today, Stan was ticked about a piece in the NYT, about which he said:
The NY Times, making sure to remind us, in this holiday season, what a vile bunch of people write for it and how much they hate Jews (even as some of them are Jews – or more accurately JINOs). – SD
That’s Stan’s opinion, not mine. In my view, all sorts of people write for the NYT. Some I really like, some I really don’t, some in-between, but I seldom encounter anyone I would call “vile.”
I do believe if I had read the piece he was referring to, I might have considered the writer… tiresome. One does weary of people trying so hard, like Netflix, to be “modern” — folks who seem to have no other reason for writing beyond communicating that about themselves. Like a password to a club or something.
Anyway, Stan passed on this piece about the NYT piece, with his implied approval. I only share it in case you’re looking for something a little different from the “War on Christmas” thing (although the piece contains a bit of that as well). It’s headlined, “‘Goodbye to Hannukah,’ Says a Headline in the Post-Judaism New York Times.” Anyway, here’s an excerpt:
by Ira Stoll
The New York Times is greeting the holiday of Chanukah with an article by a woman explaining why she won’t transmit to her children her family’s tradition of celebrating the holiday.
“Saying Goodbye to Hannukah” is the headline over the Times article, which is subheadlined “I lit the menorah as a child, but my kids are growing up in a different type of household.”
The author, Sarah Prager, explains that she celebrated Chanukah as a child because her father was Jewish. “Each of those eight nights we’d recite the Hebrew prayer about God while lighting the menorah. We memorized the syllables and repeated them, but they had no meaning to us and my parents didn’t expect, or want, us to believe what we were reciting.”
The Times article goes on “I married a woman who was raised Catholic but who, like my parents, had left her family religion as an adult. She and I are part of America’s ever-growing ‘nones’ with no religious affiliation at all. Before we had kids, we imagined we’d choose a religion to raise them in, maybe Unitarian Universalism or even Reform Judaism. But when our first child was born four years ago, we realized that going to any house of worship and following a religion just for our children to feel a connection to something wouldn’t be authentic. We couldn’t teach them to believe in anything we didn’t believe in ourselves.”…
We need to again be a country that can celebrate these guy’s contributions to the American idea, and at the same time be fully outraged at what happened to George Floyd, which grossly violated that idea. In that space where those reactions coexist lies our hope as a nation.
We could celebrate what I have always thought, without question, was the whole idea about America.
It’s not about the majesty of purple mountains or the amber color of grain. And most of all, it’s not about a people — people this color or that color or speaking this or that language.
It’s about the ideas, and their growth toward perfection over time. It’s a majestic story. And it starts not with freedom, not exactly. It starts with liberality. With tolerance, with plurality, with openness to each other, and a fierce sense of fairness toward everyone, particularly those who don’t look or talk or even think the way we do.
And that is in profound trouble in this country.
The most dramatic example of that is embodied by Donald Trump, although he is not the cause of the problem. The problem is that there were enough people who would vote for such a person — a person who deliberately appealed to the very worst, illiberal impulses — for him to win an Electoral College victory.
The problem is, if the left in this country were clearly articulating the liberal alternative, as it has done within living memory, it would have pulled along enough people from the center to utterly repudiate Trumpism in 2016. But that’s not the case. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of illiberality on the left, and that prevents us from having a clear, American liberal alternative.
The news on this front isn’t all bad, of course. The best thing that has happened in our politics in recent years was the Democratic Party’s decision to nominate Joe Biden for president. Joe is the perfect representative — and about the only one who sought the office this year — of the kind of liberal values that have been the glory of this country from the start. If he wins the election — better yet, if he utterly crushes Trumpism in November — it make be the first step in saving this country from recent trends. And that would be wonderful — for America, for the rest of the world, and for the ideas that are the only positive way forward, and the only things worth celebrating on this holiday.
If you read this blog regularly, y’all know that I gravitate toward the opinions of “Never Trump” conservatives. They come closer to expressing what is really wrong with Trumpism, from my point of view. So I was motivated to write this piece when I saw a column today from Bret Stephens at the NYT, headlined “Reading Orwell for the Fourth of July.” After dismissing Trump as an “instinctual fascist” who is fortunately really bad at it, he writes:
The more serious problem today comes from the left: from liberal elites who, when tested, lack the courage of their liberal convictions; from so-called progressives whose core convictions were never liberal to begin with; from administrative types at nonprofits and corporations who, with only vague convictions of their own, don’t want to be on the wrong side of a P.R. headache.
This has been the great cultural story of the last few years. It is typified by incidents such as The New Yorker’s David Remnick thinking it would be a good idea to interview Steve Bannon for the magazine’s annual festival — until a Twitter mob and some members of his own staff decided otherwise. Or by The Washington Post devoting 3,000 words to destroying the life of a private person of no particular note because in 2018 she wore blackface, with ironic intent, at a Halloween party. Or by big corporations pulling ads from Facebook while demanding the company do more to censor forms of speech they deem impermissible.
These stories matter because an idea is at risk. That’s the idea that people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and that no society can long flourish when contrarians are treated as heretics.
Frankly, I disagree with Stephens that the illiberal impulse on the left is worse than the one on the right. (Having a wannabe fascist as president of the United States is a national emergency, no matter how incompetent he is.) But I agree that it’s bad, because it distracts the left from the ideas that would save our country.
We are doomed if the largely maskless crowd who applauded Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore last night have their way. We are also doomed if the people who have tried to pull down, damage or deface statues of all four men depicted on the mountain have their way.
Trump, of course, wants people to think that you have to choose one or the other — his way, or that of the statue-destroyers (the less-discriminating sort, that can’t tell the difference between a statue of Washington and one of Nathan Bedford Forrest).
But we don’t have to choose between those extremes. In fact, if America and the hope it offers to the world are to survive, we must not.
We have to be able to applaud people who find what happened to George Floyd an outrage, a violation of all we believe in, while at the same time condemning people who would attack a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated with the help of Frederick Douglass.
If we can’t do that, we’re sunk, and the Fourth of July is nothing more but an opportunity to sell hot dogs.
The problem, of course, is greater than overexcited demonstrators who go off-course. When the NYT itself recasts American history itself as being about nothing but slavery and oppression — as being about 1619 rather than 1776 — we’ve got a problem. When a crowd of indignant people from the newsroom — you know, people who are not supposed to have opinions — can topple the paper’s editorial page editor for running a piece with which they (and the editor) disagree, we are losing one of the great institutions that has stood for liberal values.
Another of those anti-Trump conservatives at the NYT (and when the paper stops running such people, the institution really will be dead) had a piece that offered an examination of similar concerns. With reference to the coronavirus, David Brooks wrote:
I had hopes that the crisis would bring us together, but it’s made everything harder and worse. And now I worry less about populism or radical wokeness than about a pervasive loss of national faith.
What’s lurking, I hope, somewhere deep down inside is our shared ferocious love for our common country and a vision for the role America could play as the great pluralist beacon of the 21st century…
I hope so. And that hope is what I’m embracing on this holiday. We’ve got to stop thinking people have to choose between Trumpian populism or popular “wokeness,” and get behind a way of thinking that respects an honest and open interchange of ideas.
The night before, we had gone to Mass at the cathedral that was right around the corner from our hotel, where we experienced a great blessing. The priest showed us — you’re not going to believe this — an actual relic of St. Patrick himself, on loan from Rome! As a convert, I don’t usually go in for that old-Catholic sort of stuff, but I was excited as anyone. And no, I didn’t ask what part of the good saint we were venerating; I just enjoyed our good luck to be there at the time.
I shot this pic of Blarney Castle on March 17, 2019, before my unfortunate ascent to the top.
The next morning, we got on the bus and headed to Blarney, where I climbed to the top of castle, got hit in my bad ear by a huge gust of wind, and immediately suffered one of the worst bouts of vertigo I’ve ever experienced. No, I did not kiss the stone. I just wanted to get back down alive. When I finally got down to the ground — for a bit there, I thought I never would — I kissed a stone at the very base of the tower, when no one was looking. I was that glad to be back on terra firma.
We got to Killarney precisely as the parade was beginning, and it was awesome. Small and quaint and homey and real. We then got a late lunch at a Thai place, of course.
Toward the evening we went about checking out the pubs, mostly guarded by tough-looking locals standing at the entrances smoking and saying, “not in this pub, tourist” with their eyes. At one point we passed one victim of spontaneous celtic enthusiasm sitting in the street bleeding. We went back to the hotel to have our pint there. I mean, you know, I had the wife with me.
There was this one young man with our group, not long out of college, who met an Irish lass who insisted that a pub full of locals admit him to their revels, and he was in no condition to sight-see the next day. But I think he got his money’s worth.
I think we all did. And may we all have such fine St. Paddy’s days in the future. Just not this year…
Even Uncle Sam was there! And taller than I thought. We ran into these guys after the parade.
Y’all, I’ve been too busy to post today, but as you know this was a busy day in Columbia for presidential candidates.
Of course, it was a lot more than that. It was MLK Day, which for me has generally been a rather busy holiday. It all started 20 years ago today, when the Columbia Urban League, under the leadership of J.T. McLawhorn and Dr. David Swinton, decided to do something BIG to show how much folks wanted the Confederate flag off the State House dome.
With the help of a coalition of like-minded groups, they succeeded. J.T. and I went on Cynthia Hardy’s show (Cynthia, by the way, was J.T.’s right-hand person at the Urban League at the time) on WACH over the weekend to talk about that event. Why have us old guys on TV to reminiscent about something so long ago? Because it was amazing. There’s been nothing like it before or since. Here’s a picture. The crowd was estimated at 60,000.
In the years since, the march at rally at the State House has become branded as more of an NAACP production (it was one of the organizations that helped with the first one), while the CUL has put its energies into a huge breakfast event at the Brookland Baptist convention facility. Both are magnets for Democrats with national ambitions. I was at the Urban League event this morning, with friends:
It was great to see and hear Joe, of course — and to a lesser extent Pete and Tom and Deval.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with Joe — and was jealous that my friend Samuel Tenenbaum got to sit next to Joe. For my part, I sat at one of the tables dedicated to the Biden contingent, and got to visit with Joe’s state political director and fellow Smith campaign alumnus Scott Harriford.
While I didn’t speak with Joe, I did shake hands with Pete. I didn’t set out to, but we sort of bumped into each other while trying to squeeze through the crowd back to our seats. So I did the civil, and stuck out my hand and said, “How’s it going, Mayor?” And he took it and nodded and moved on. (Yeah, I know. I just didn’t have anything pertinent in mind to say.)
I was going to post some quick quotes from columns I read this morning, one of them quite frivolous, but then I remembered what today is. The Fourth Day of Christmas, when we remember the slaughter of the innocents.
And yes, it’s still Christmas. We’re only a third of the way through. You can’t tell from the secular signs. There’s not a carol to be found on the radio. They played them all back during Advent, the heathens.
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
See the way I tied the holiday to the funny video I wanted to share that actually had nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Old newspaperman’s trick.
Back in the day, when newspapers had some heft to them, today’s was always the biggest paper of the year. We saved up copy for weeks to fill that sucker. In fact, when I started my first newspaper job out of college in the fall of 1975, my managing editor gave me a special assignment, and acted like he was showing me favor by handing me such a great responsibility.
He put me in charge of the Turkey Box. It was a cardboard box that I was to fill with evergreen stories that would hold for the big day. So I crammed it with AP copy of a non-urgent nature.
I didn’t let it swell my head, which is to my credit.
Anyway, I thought this video was great. I would say hilarious, except for the serious point it makes. I particularly like the bit about the first-round draft pick who is instantly a millionaire, a great rise from his unassuming beginnings: “His father lived paycheck to paycheck as a humble pro football player.”
Yes, it would be great if top teachers were lured away to a new school by $80 million over six years, etc.
Of course, I don’t know if it’s healthy for a society to get this excited about anybody. But if we’re going to do that, it might as well be about teachers or someone else who actually contributes something of value to society.
The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:
Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
Look, people… If it makes you happy, Columbus was wrong, the Bugs Bunny version notwithstanding.
Yeah, the Earth was round, as every educated person of his day knew. Only low-information types thought otherwise. But the scholars of the day also knew how big the Earth was, and why Columbus’ idea of sailing west to get to the East Indies was a pipe dream.
But because he was dumb enough to insist on proving his point, he accidentally discovered the New World — and almost no other development in human history has had such wide-reaching consequences, for good or ill.
Consequently, I consider efforts to downplay his “discovery” of the New World a bit on the silly side. Such as this reference in an interesting piece by the NYT’s Brent Staples:
It also tied Italian-Americans closely to the paternalistic assertion, still heard today, that Columbus “discovered” a continent that was already inhabited by Native Americans….
Allow me to make a “paternalistic assertion.” Yep, he did discover America. And everything that has happened since arises from that fact.
Right now, I’m reading the book Guns, Germs and Steel, and it’s fascinating. Basically, it attempts to determine the underlying factors that caused certain parts of the world to be “discovered,” and ultimately dominated by, people from other parts of the world.
The whole book aims to answer a question posed to the author by a New Guinean politician named Yali back in the ’70s. When Europeans “discovered” New Guinea a couple of centuries back, the people there were technologically still in the Stone Age. The local people were blown away by the physical artifacts of a modern society — ranging from steel axes to soft drinks — which they referred to collectively as “cargo.” Yali asked the author:
“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”
Jared Diamond’s attempts to answer the question are deeply fascinating.
The book spends considerable time on one incident in particular, back in 1532. You may know the story of how Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro took the Incan emperor prisoner, accepted a ransom from the Incas of a vast amount of gold, and then killed the emperor anyway. Aside from dwelling on some “woke” aspect of this encounter, such as the obvious fact that these Spaniards were a__holes, Diamond asked why it happened this way. In other words, why didn’t Incan emperor Atahuallpa go to Spain, take King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, prisoner and hold him for ransom? A variation of Yali’s question.
And no, the answer isn’t that Atahuallpa was a nicer guy, or for that matter that American Indians were on the whole nicer than white guys (although again, Pizarro and crew didn’t exactly create a great first impression for the rest of us white guys).
Nor is Diamond satisfied with, the Spaniards had guns and steel swords and horses. The book aims to understand why people from Europe had guns and steel swords and horses. For that, he goes back to when homo sapiens first spread out over the Earth, and in certain places gave up hunting and gathering for farming, and different kinds of farming in different places, and the effects that had on the development of technology an complex political structures, and so on.
I highly recommend the book.
But my point is that, whether you personally see it as a good thing or a bad thing, Columbus’ discovery of America was definitely a thing, and one of the most consequential pivot points of history. If you want to explore just how consequential, I recommend another book, which I’ve recommended before: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.
What happened on Oct. 12, 1492, was monumental, and certainly worth marking with a special observance. It changed the world as almost nothing else that has ever happened did. Where people get all bollixed up is when they try to assign moral value to the event.
I don’t know why people do that. Discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a good guy. It doesn’t really make him a bad guy, either. Some other stuff he did after he got here makes him look pretty bad — especially to someone with a 2019 worldview. But like him or hate him, the thing he did, what he stumbled onto, has enormous global significance. He did something amazing, but it doesn’t make him a hero. Or the devil.
The arrival of Europeans, with their relative immunity to certain diseases like smallpox, had horrific consequences for the native population of this hemisphere. What happened was so horrible that it staggers the imagination: 95 percent of the population died out.
But just as discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a hero (to me at least he was not), he can’t really be blamed for everything that happened to the people who lived here, however badly he may have treated the natives he encountered. (Which was pretty damned badly.) He didn’t say, “Hey, let’s go to China (where he thought he was headed) and infect the local people so they all die out.” In fact, most of the people of this hemisphere died over the next few decades long before they came into contact with whites — the germs spread across these continents much faster than people did. People of European descent didn’t even realize on what scale this happened until quite recently (and to learn more about that, read Mann’s prequel, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.)
Of course, people can play games with the word “discovered.” They can say, those Asian people who crossed the land bridge 15,000 years ago “discovered” America, or even say the first Europeans to discover America were actually the Vikings. Or St. Brendan the Navigator. But none of those events opened this side of the world to the other side, mainly because the world wasn’t technologically prepared to bring that about.
So, as a historic event with repercussions for the entire planet, the moment that America got discovered — in the sense of the planet learning of its existence and being affected by it — well, that happened 527 years ago this week.
Feel about it any way you like, but that’s the way things unfolded….
I always remember it, and not the other Beatles’ birthdays, not merely because it comes six days after my own. It’s because of Nueve de Octubre, and that looms large because when I was a schoolboy in Ecuador, we always got a whole week off for it — while only getting a day and a half for Christmas.
At the time, I thought that it was Ecuadorean Independence Day. I mean, it would have to be at least that, right — who would take off a whole week for anything less?
But it turns out that it’s only when the province of Guayas, which contained the city of Guayaquil — where I lived — declared its independence from Spain. Not the whole country.
Bonus fact ripped from today’s headlines: Guayaquil is now effectively the capital of Ecuador, since unrest in Quito caused el presidente to have to relocate the seat of government.
I urge you to go to Yesterday’s and buy one, have a pint and remember me to Duncan and my other friends there.
However, I won’t be joining you on the day of. I’ll be in Ireland.
See how I just reeled that off so casually, as though going to Ireland is a small thing that I do all the time? Well, it isn’t. I’ve never been before. But my colleen and I will be boarding a plane for Dublin a week from today, and we’re kind of excited about it. We’ll spend a couple of days there, and on St. Paddy’s Day we’ll be in Waterford, which is my wife’s ancestral home. She’s a Phelan, which is to say she’s an Ó Faoláin.
We have tacitly agreed that while in Waterford, I won’t mention my descent from the guy the hard cider is named after. Although while in Dublin I plan to quietly go to the National Gallery and see his wedding picture, which depicts his taking Irish Princess Aoife Ní Diarmait as his bride. (And if anyone asks me, I’ll stress that I’m just as much descended from her as I am from the Norman. Ahem. So don’t blame me.)
Having the two Phelans with me should give me all the cred I need among the Irish. Or so I hope.
Anyway, I’m really looking forward to it. So much so that I started reading Ulysses a few weeks back, to get into the mood. But a couple of “chapters” in, I decided that was unnecessary, and that having read Dubliners is more than enough preparation….
On Ash Wednesday, I usually wait until the Mass at night to go get my ashes. Of course, I do that with any holy day that comes in the week, such as… well, I guess Ash Wednesday is the main one… because it’s convenient: Get through the working day, go to Mass, go home.
But I know that a small part of the equation is that I don’t want to go around all day with the ashes on. And this is evidence of being a bad Catholic, I think. I mean, the whole point is to spend the day wearing an outward sign of penitence, right? Show everyone you’re sorry for your sins. I think.
It’s not that I’m embarrassed to show my faith. I do that all the time. In fact, I disobey Jesus’ admonition not to pray in public, by briefly saying grace wherever I sit down to eat. If there are people who are inclined to say, “Look at the crazy Christian,” they have ample opportunity. (Which is worse — praying in public, or failing to be grateful for one’s daily bread?)
But the ashes… They call for explanation. My mind goes back to a time shortly after I first became Catholic. It was Ash Wednesday, and I went into a Chinese restaurant with my ashes on. The proprietor helpfully told me in broken English that I had something on my forehead. I told him it was supposed to be there. This perplexed him, and I started trying to explain, but there was enough of a language barrier to make that impossible. Eventually, apparently deciding that the crazy foreign devil was making fun, he laughed. I gave up.
That was 30 something years ago, and I’m pretty sure that on some level I’m still trying to avoid having that conversation again. Partly because living in the South, many Christians don’t know about Ash Wednesday, much less other folk. So you have this situation where people are looking at you, and you figure they’re wondering about the ashes, and you can’t decide whether you should assume that and offer an explanation (evangelicals certainly would, if they followed this practice), or just let them wonder.
So I go at night, which minimizes interaction with the uninitiated.
And I feel a little bad about that.
I feel especially bad on this Ash Wednesday, because at breakfast I saw the guy above on a TV set, standing in front of the world with his ashes on. The sound was off, so I don’t know if he offered an explanation of his ashes or not.
Well, good for him. I applaud him. Among other things, he’s showing the world that journalists are not all a bunch of godless barbarians. And this one is on MSNBC, no less! Take that, all you alleged Christians who voted for Trump!
Anyway, I just looked at the schedule, and while I don’t think I’m going to make it to the noon Mass, I see there’s one at 5:30! I could go to that, instead of the 7:30!
“I say humbug to you, sir! We haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet!”
… ‘Cause I am.
I am not a Scrooge. I have been fully conditioned to say that, by a lifetime of seeing Scrooge — before the ghosts — as a bad guy, who was redeemed by getting into the Christmas Spirit.
But you’ll note, if you go back and read the story, that he got into the Christmas Spirit on Christmas Day — that is, on the first of the 12 days of actual Christmas.
If Scrooge had gone into Walmart on the day after Halloween, hoping to pick up some Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins on sale, only to find all the Halloween stuff replaced by Christmas-themed merchandise — which actually happened to yours truly — I’d have called him a hero for crying “Humbug!”
And that’s what he’d have been: A hero. A man fighting a lonely fight against the cheapening and dilution of what was once a perfectly lovely holiday. Not the holiest day in the liturgical calendar, but a nice one nonetheless.
What put me in this Scroogesque mood? I made the mistake of listening to commercial radio for a few minutes this morning, and every ad I heard was Christmas-themed. And this is 13 days before the start of Advent, which is the whole season that occurs BEFORE Christmas arrives.