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Christmas Message

[Note: I will not be able to file a column from Hawaii  on Dec. 27. This is my last column for two weeks.]

In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's the 11th  rerun of my Christmas message since Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language. It ranges from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (which single-handedly revived the celebration of Christmas as a major holiday in the English-speaking world), to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. In more modern times, we have, among other things, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray as Scrooge in the Dickens adaptation, Scrooged. (Not to mention Olive, The Other Reindeer. Never seen it. Love the pun).

Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered, as I do every year, throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column.

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the party goers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, or Good King Wenceslas" (Question: speaking of flow muses, why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year when we sing The 12 Days Of Christmas.

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog (or fat-free "Holiday Nog") and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children.

It's about traveling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. This year, we are headed with the girls to Hawaii, to Kauai to be exact, for a week on the beach. We leave on the 26th, and return on the 2nd, just in time to go back to work (or school). 

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day. There are more lights this year, because we hosted the staff Christmas party. But there aren't as many as when the girls were little. That's OK.

We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big real tree her freshman year at college, so we put a 14-footer in the library in 1999; then Rae asked for one and got it in 2003. This year -- just a little tabletop tree with Chinese decorations. But it's a fancy artificial tree, with two kinds of lights and a remote control, modeled after a White Vermont Spruce. We bought it in January 2008, at an after-Christmas sale in an artificial tree store.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children, my brother and my father as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I have adult-onset diabetes, but there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control. I almost died in a car crash in January 2007, but I'm still alive. My wacky ticker made me faint, and now I have a defibrillator / pacemaker. Beats the alternative.

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six...

Political Briefs

  • Tax Increase On Those Making Less Than $20,000 To Give $139,000 Annually To Each Millionaire
    This is a clear explanation at least at the lower end. 
  • Richard Holbrooke, 1941-2010
    As a reader who knew Richard Holbrooke for over 30 years wrote: The real shame of Richard's Holbrooke's sudden and untimely death is that he realized the truth of his last words before surgery and was unable to see them fulfilled during his lifetime despite his best efforts. According to the linked report, Ambassador Holbrooke's last words as he was sedated for a 21 hour operation three days before his death were: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."
  • Kissinger Officially Unconcerned If Jews Sent To Gas Chambers
    In 1973, less than 30 years after the end of World War II, Henry Kissinger told President Nixon (who thereafter allowed Henry to remain on the government payroll):
    "The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
    To his credit, Hitchens has been following this matter since at least 2002. 
    It's all well and good for Hitchens to be raising these issues about 30 or 37 years after the fact now that Henry is about 87; one wonders if any journalist bothered to ask Henry what he was doing while he was actually in office.
  • Forty Years Of Neglect: the real-world costs of conservative ideology
  • Republicans 26 Years Late Joining Orwell
    Following the Republicans' radical, twisted, and irrational logic, an effective way to reduce, or perhaps eliminate, healthcare costs would be to ban use of the words "sick," "fractured," and "infected."
  • How Is That Legislation Ratifying Corporate Immunity For Aiding And Abetting Billions Of Constitutional Violations Working Out For You? AT&T and Verizon block Wikileaks
  • Fox Makes You Stupid
    Fox Viewers Uninformed And Becoming More Uninformed Due To Fox's Deliberate Republican Misinformation Campaign
  • 90% Of Mid-Term Voters Falsely Informed Before They Voted Republican

The King's Speech

5 stars out of 5

(Yes, I know Neal already reviewed this film... but I was so blown away, I had to weigh in. We surely agree on this one).

I was thinking of giving this film six stars, but my daughter talked me out of it; "Wouldn't that damage the integrity of the star system?" she asked. Run, don't walk to the nearest theater showing this film.  Please note: Since 2008 I have given five stars to five other films: The Dark Knight, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Moon, In The Loop and Up in the Air. The King's Speech is better than all of them.I recall reading once about a movie producer who pleaded "review the film, not the box office," but I can't find the quote on Google (except in my own previous column). Nevertheless, it bears noting that this film, in 43 theaters, came in 13th this weekend, and grossed just over $2 million. Compare that to Tron Legacy at $43 million and you could despair, except The King's Speech was only in 43 theaters, and grossed $25,000 per screen, the highest of the top 20 films and twice what TL pulled in per-screen. So, quality will out now and then. It is hard to know where to begin with the praise for this film. "First there was the word," so credit screenwriter David Seidler, winner of the BAFTA for this script. I checked out his CV, and it is amazing. After a 45 year career of undistinguished writing, mostly for TV, he suddenly created a script, albeit one "based on a true story" which knocked my socks off.  Director Tom Hooper is somewhat less of a surprise; he did HBO's John Adams, and the recent cult hit Damned United. The only totally unsurprising thing about this film is the stellar performance of the three workhorses who get 99% of the screen time, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop is a cute cameo, since he stuttered when playing Caligula on TV all those years ago). Firth is amazing as King George, Rush is astounding as his speech therapist Lionel Logue and Carter is her usual talented self in the relatively tiny role of Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Mother. Rush, who here plays an Australian, is, in fact, an Australian. The plot, in case you've been in a cave for the last month, per IMDB: "Tells the story of the man who became King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George ('Bertie') reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded stutter and considered unfit to be king, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue." This film is touching, moving, brilliant, funny, clever, well-written, well-shot and well-acted. I can't imagine asking anything more from a movie experience. 

Cat Video, Dan Grobstein File

A friend pointed out a cat video with a twist: it was shot by cats! (with cameras on their colors). Hysterical and amazing.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Very interesting. Also elections matter & the Democrats should get their judges into office when they have the majority. Three co-equal branches of government and the Democrats only concentrate on two.
    That Don't Seem Right
    Just to remind everyone: the judge who declared part of the Health Care law unconstitutional today? He's a part owner of a GOP consulting firm that among other things represents Boehner, Bachmann, McCain and others who've spent the last two years arguing that reform was unconstitutional.
  • I guess it will be the masses vFox Entertainment Viewers Most Uninformed And Becoming Even More Uninformed

    90% Of Mid-Term Voters Falsely Informed Before They Voted Republican for bread and circuses that will destroy us. Juvenal was correct (had to look up his name). Bread for our rich 1% and circuses (that's all that's on the news or campaign coverage). I read somewhere that Glenn Beck is touting the similarities between the US of A and Ancient Rome though I'm sure he has it all wrong. Read somewhere that his ideas come from whatever pamphlet he's picked up last. I saw Halperin interviewed at the 92nd St. Y. I don't think he lives in the same reality that I do. It's a shame about Richard Holbrooke. Saw him twice. Very interesting and very skillful. He had an interesting discussion with Winston Lord and then he came in to introduce General Petraeus. All at the Y.
    This review is a stop on a “virtual book tour” for the paperback version of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Game Change, an account of the 2008 presidential campaign.
  • OPINION   | December 14, 2010
    Paul Krugman: The SPECTRE of Inequality
    One million dollars!
  • Foreclosure Tax Breaks Hurting Florida Cities/Counties
  • Bemoaning the end of the beat system: An Honest Journalist
  • Republicans denounce earmarks -- even their own
  • I have to agree with this. I know that the little devil on my shoulder pushed me to buy things for my 29 year business because of the tax deduction.
    On top of that taxes never worried me. I always figured that in order to pay them I must be making money. And they're simple to plan for.
    Health insurance costs on the other hand . . .
    Tax Hikes Increase Small Business Spending
  • The Iranian people are much more like us than anything in Saudi Arabia. It's in our best interest to engage them. We need a Nixon goes to China. Too bad it will have to be a Republican. Reforming The Regime'
  • I took the Amtrak train from NYC to Chicago via the southern route in 1980 and picked up newspapers at stops. We went to Washington, DC and west through Kentucky and north through Illinois as I recall. I can't find that Amtrak has that route anymore. (There used to be 3 routes and I did all 3). Anyway my experience with the newspapers is that they were all running the same stories and columnists and most of them subscribed to the NY Times news service. The Coming Death Of The News Wire
  • Interesting way of putting it.
    $190,000 a year is rich "He’d often tell classmates his future goal was “to pay more in taxes than most people make.” They thought he was joking, but he wasn’t." [turns out in New York, if you make $190,000 you pay more in taxes than most people make]
  • Pitcher Bob Feller dies
  • Broadband prices dropping around the world except the US
  • Markos Tweet   Can't wait until we strip all the earmarks from the $1.2 T omnibus bill so we can get to a manageable $1.2 T omnibus bill.
  • I hope that the Democrats are so pissed at this that they abolish the filibuster when they organize the new Senate in January. Also they should all stay in Washington over the holidays. McCain is very statesmanlike. Unbelievable comments from him.  One point 2 trillion dollar bill. Worked on for a year. That's one thousand two hundred billion and the Republicans filibuster it because of 800 billion in earmarks, half of which they inserted. Cut them all out and it is still a 1.2 trillion dollar bill & the earmarks just come from other money that will be spent anyway.Don't worry. Earmarks will be just fine whenever the Republicans take control again.
  • In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture: A Google-backed project allows the frequency of specific words and phrases to be tracked in centuries of books.
  • BOOKS   | December 19, 2010
    Mark Twain's Riverboat Ramblings
    Samuel L. Clemens's autobiography, embargoed at his request for 100 years and now a best seller, is a powerful argument for writers' burning their papers.

A Three-Event Weekend

Of course, it happens a lot this time of year. Basically, the three weekends before Christmas are, for many people, a whirlwind of parties and events. And, again, for most people, they all pile up in a particular weekend. This year it happened for me last weekend.

On Friday, I volunteered my home for the staff party for the middle school at which I teach. Fortunately, the Social Committee provides the food and does most of them setup. We just had to tidy up and decorate the space. We're at the top of a steep hill, so the parking was a bit tricky, and there was some unforecast rain, and because of property ownership patterns there are no lights on our steep hill, but everything worked out for the 50 or so people who attended, and no one took me up on my offer of a ride on my electric golf cart. It was a jolly and social time.

Saturday, it was several of the same people and many more at F's home. She's the social studies teacher across the hall I have known since she and Vicki were in baby class together. Every year, she holds a Christmas Carol party. Her mother, a piano teacher, plays the piano, and even though I can't sing, I lead the singing because I have a loud voice and a willingness to say a few words about each song. I love being the center of attention, of course. The party is a pot luck, and the food this year, as usual, was almost amazing as the company provided by F's eclectic group of friend and acquaintances. I kept the audience entertained and singing.

Sunday, it was the 10th annual Christmas concert of the Danville Community Band. I am proud to say I have never missed one of these concerts. The announcing was the usual mix of careful scripting and madcap ad libs; the congratulations, from the audience and members of the band, was heartwarming. The tenor sax playing was, typically, a desperate effort to keep up during some songs, and a fair amount of finger movement not accompanied by actual playing. But I met my standard concert goals; I played 2/3 of the music correctly and didn't play in any of the rests. As usual, we had a visit from Santa, and gave away free cookies at intermission. The program was a delight, and the East Bay Fellowship church where we perform each year was, as is its wont, decorated to the gills for the season.

I, of course, was exhausted by the end of the whole thing. Thank goodness there's only a week left of school until the break!

Money and politics, Lieberman, Recovery

Risking Citizens' Health And The Environment To Pay For Republican Campaigns

"Public Citizen's Tom "Smitty" Smith, a veteran of environmental and consumer battles in Texas, has a theory. Smith describes a "vicious circle" between Rick Perry's political ambitions and Harold Simmon's business ambitions, a perfect melding of corporate and political interests with far-reaching implications. Simmons is one of Perry's top donors; he's given the governor almost $1 million in just the past two years.

"What you see now is that Harold Simmons, who is one of the largest donors to Republican causes in the United States ... now is making millions of dollars off this waste and can plow [the earnings] back into Republican campaigns to elect more Republicans. Among the benefits of that is to reduce the oversight over this waste facility and other facilities that he owns."

A more blatant example of what Ronald Reagan began doing about 43 years ago and continued to do with gusto while President.


Did Joe Lieberman Really Get A Law Degree From Yale?
Lieberman Confused Or Not Really A Competent Lawyer
Unctuous, Sanctimonious Lawyer Of Arguable Competence Unsurprisingly Attacks First Amendment With Unctuous Sanctimony

""What do you think of the Justice Department's actions so far not to charge Julian Assange with treason?" the Fox anchor, Jenna Lee, asked.  "I don't understand why that hasn't happened yet," Lieberman said."

Real simple senator, treason can only be committed by a U.S. citizen or resident (that is, someone who owes their allegiance to the U.S.). The person (innocent of treason) you slimed is not a U.S. citizen or resident.

Given failure to investigate and prosecute alleged torturers and torture enablers, at about 2:30 of video Lieberman acknowledges Americans likely to be involved soon in torturing again. No word on what Lieberman has done to start investigation and, if appropriate, prosecution of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney for involvement in torture.

Also: Lieberman Clueless,    Republicans Heartless And Clueless,   Sen. Lieberman Emulates Chinese Dictatorship


The chart in It Seems Unlikely That The Second Stimulus And Giveaways To The Rich Will Solve The Economy's Problem  is probably the key to understanding the extant domestic economic situation. Briefly, economy was altered starting (to pick a random date) about Jan. 20, 1981 (manufacturing started to go offshore in a serious way) so recovery took long Letters: Peterman and Dan Grobstein Fileer and longer. Recovery time 1981 (start of downturn) recession was 27 months; recovery time 1990 was 30 months; recovery time 2001 was 47 months; recovery time 2007 is 35 months and counting with essentially no change. Perhaps a negative change given last month's results. Further, another 6M manufacturing jobs were destroyed between 2001 and 2009. Further yet, the employment drop off in 2007 was 6% from peak vs. 2% from peak in 2001. All of which indicates this recovery (back to peak employment) may take about 141 months (roughly 12 years or 2019) when, as, and if it occurs. This time is consistent with result when dividing about 20M jobs by about 140,000 new jobs per month (which would be an improvement over what has been happening lately). Chair Bernanke's comment broadcast Sunday, the most recent employment report Friday, and the history represented by the curves in the chart all indicate a recovery to the zero level is years away.

  • Agency With Alcohol Problems Doing What?
  • Sun Rises In East: George W. Bush Has Low Intellectual Reach And Abilities. And lies.
  • Palin Does Not Support Constitution
    Article VI has provided since the Constitution of the United States was adopted on September 17, 1787 that: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution;
    but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
  • Getting There
    U.S. trains may reach average speed of 79 mph (Milwaukee-Madison) maybe in a few years if about $800M is spent for Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-Minneapolis high speed rail link.
  • Is This Bankster Taking Inconsistent Political Positions?
    Another risk caused by the unconscionable failure of Pres. Obama to read and follow the PSACOT editorial of February 2009 on the banking and financial system. 
  • Cheney Charged
    Given the absence of any inquiry into Cheney's admissions about his arguably illegal conduct in the U.S. and his conduct in the U.S., this legal action probably puts the U.S. below Nigeria on a list of countries' adherence to the rule of law.


2.5 stars out of 5

Honestly, at first, if I hadn't known it was Christina Aguilera, I wouldn't have known it was Christina Aguilera. It is amazing how different she looks when she's not in full stage makeup and costume and tricked out like a hooker. She actually manages to pull of sweet innocence. As the film progresses, she becomes more the Christine we all know and have grown tired of. Cher, on the other hand--well, the thing I liked best about this movie was that it put Cher back on the back screen. You can't be too thing, or too rich, or have too much Cher. She only gets two songs, but she hits both out of the park. The low rating comes from the fact that this movie sort of claims to be a movie, when it is actually a tricked-up concert film with a high set and costume budget. Word is, this was someone's passion project. Bully for them. At these prices, I'm sure they felt they had to share it. Not bad, but not really good either.

One more thing about Christine; as one reviewer put it, she has "Etta James voice in a Barbie body." I was not familiar with much of her work before I saw this film, but she does have a remarkable voice. If you enjoy it, or you don't know it, see the movie for that. If you do know it and don't like it, stay away because this is all Christine all the time (mostly).


3.5 stars out of 5

A quite lovely voice cast, led by Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy (but with a lot of great cameos) turns in a solid performance in this entertaning retelling of the Rapunzel story. Alan Menken provides the music, and although he is the living composer who as won the most Oscars, I've never found his work as compelling as Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, when Howard Ashman was alive and writing with him. He now writes by himself, which just proves once again that, in artistic collaboration, one plus one is often more than two. As per usual, great Disney storytelling, great DIsney CGI. Am I mistaken, or has Disney sharpened up since merging with Pixar? Just asking. A fun, frivilous frolic.