Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. (And I mean that sincerely)

On Christmas Day, 1914, only four months into the brutality of World War I, a spontaneous miracle happened on the Western Front.  On that day German and British soldiers laid down their arms and gathered together in No Man's Land to share food and cigarettes, sing Christmas carols, and play a few games of football.

 On other battle lines along the front,  "Merry Christmas" signs were hastily constructed and held up to cheers from the other side. Without orders and in spite of warnings from their superiors, the soldiers on both sides declared a truce for, at the very least, one magical day.  For some, the truce lasted for days into weeks, or until new troops replaced those who had been involved. There are reports that it happened the next year and the year after that and each year on Christmas Day until that terrible war ended.

For generations, Christmas has held that kind of Good Will magic, and no matter who we are or where we are or how we got there, that holiday spirit endures.  For a few days out of the year millions of us do our best to take kindness to a whole new level.  We wake up with a song in our heart, feeling.good.  We want to do things.  Not to others but for others.  For a precious few days near the end of the year we like people.  We really, really like them!

Unless we don't.  Unless we're those few  "It's Merry Christmas, Dammit!" people and someone nearby has the nerve to either ask for some life-changing help or to say "Happy Holidays!" out loud.

"Happy Holidays!"  That simple phrase, known for what seems like forever throughout the world as a perfectly acceptable seasonal salutation (preferable in almost all circles to the truly lifeless "Season's Greetings"), turns out to be a secret code for declaring war on Christmas

Did you ever in your life think the day would come when "War" and "Christmas" would share space in the same three-word phrase?  Neither did I. But it is the notorious 21st Century, and so far it's not a century noted for common decency, let alone common sense.

I'm out of the woods and in the big city now, and I'm happy to report that "Merry Christmas" is everywhere.  So far nobody is showing signs of preparing for battle against Christmas. Our December has not suddenly turned gray.  Tanks are not on the move anywhere.  There are no soldiers in freezing, muddy trenches.  The War on Christmas is a lie. So who's making this up?  The Scrooges.  The Grinches.  Those nasty, wasty Grinches who don't have a clue about the true spirit of Christmas. That's who.

The why of it is more elusive.  There are dozens of reasons, none of them good, but Fa La La and Fiddle-de-dee,  who cares? It's Christmas and 'tis the season!

Still, I feel the need to say this plain:  I, a secular-liberal, love my Christmas.  Christmas is in my blood, pagan as my blood may be, and  I've been celebrating it for what seems like an eternity.  Through new births and great losses, through times thick and thin, this is the one Happy Holiday season that I wouldn't ever want to miss.

I love Christmas carols as much as I love sweet secular Christmas songs and it's okay because it's Christmas.

As much as I love the Chinese Restaurant scene in "The Christmas Story",  it's also possible to really, really look forward to interpretations of  The Bible's nativity scene.

I can accept that the White House Christmas card needn't be, and, all right, shouldn't be religious, but, at the same time, there is a sacred meaning to Christmas.  Churches across the country celebrate the birth of Christ, each in their own way.  I can live with that. 

The White House Christmas Card, 2011

So when I say I want to wish you Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas, you'll just have to trust that I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

(Cross-posted over at Dagblog)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Attention: The job opening is for POTUS. Dilettantes need not apply.

When I was a little girl during FDR's time, I remember people in my family talking in hushed, reverent tones about the President of the United States --  as if he were someone so special you mustn't use your normal, everyday voice.  I grew up thinking there was no one in our beloved country who could top the President when it came to being all-wise and all-caring.  I believed that there was something other-worldly, even God-like about Presidents, and I felt safe.

I came of age in the 1950s, in the midst of the McCarthy witch hunts, and all childish notions about the government as citizen protector flew right off the newborn TV screen and into the wild blue yonder.  The Army-McCarthy hearings were televised live, and for the first time in my life I knew real, hair-raising fear.  I understood then the latent, potentially evil power of the government and it terrified me.  Eisenhower was president, and, while my concern over his seeming disengagement from the whole vile circus nearly got the best of me, it didn't deter me from my original thoughts about the presidency in general.

There is the president and then there is the presidency.  One is fleeting, the other is our most cherished institution.

I've worked my way through many presidents since then and even the worst of them haven't been able to move me away from that belief.  We have certain built-in expectations of our presidents, tempered always with the recognition that they're only human.  They will not always do our bidding.  They will often make mistakes.  They will sometimes fail in the most spectacular fashion.  But the underlying hope is that when they wake up every morning in the White House -- the house on loan to them by the people -- they'll remember who they're supposed to be and resolve at the very least to do no lasting harm.

But what I'm seeing now is that venerable institution moving further and further away from any kind of special honor and more and more into celebrity/CEO status.  It is no longer cherished, no longer looked on as both a rare privilege and a breathtaking responsibility.  For proof, take a hard look at the Republican Party's current lineup of  potential presidential nominees.  Unless something major happens, the president's opponent will be one of these frontrunners:  Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, or Michelle Bachmann.  

Look deeper: There is not a serious candidate among them.  They make it understood that they want to be known as presidential without the annoying duties historically relegated to the presidency.  "Duties" is the one word in the job description that gives them the most grief, and the one they're each aiming to adjust once they're in office.  What I'm getting from their debate discussions is that they're falling all over themselves to see who can diminish the office of the presidency the fastest. (The possible exception might be Mitt Romney, but he's keeping mum, waiting to see which way the wind will blow.)

 I don't know.  If one cared, one might want to pass along to them that this is not your ordinary CEO gig.  Yes, there may be some question about whether the President of the United States is still looked on as the leader of the free world, but there's no argument that he (and someday, she) is the sole keeper of the Executive branch of our government.  When you have a country the size of ours (over 300 million people spread out over almost four million square miles) mired in unnatural disasters of epic proportions,  the last thing any serious candidate for the highest government office in the land should be advocating is an end to government interference.  Yet in the course of some 16 debates so far, that seems to be the recurrent theme.  It's as if, in all the grand hoopla, they've forgotten just which job they've applied for.

If they talk at all about joblessness, homelessness, uncovered illnesses, or any other deliberate misery cast upon certain segments of the 99%, it's to place the blame for such predicaments squarely on either the existing governmental busybodies or on the millions of affected people who have the gall to think they're the victims here.  Their fix is to turn the country over to God and the private sector -- neither of which, it should be pointed out, the president will have any control over if their dearest wishes come true.

Their goal, the destruction of a central government, is one that no president before them would have considered, even in the wildest wanderings of their most vivid imaginations.  It's not the kind of remedy past seekers of the office were inclined to entertain.

On the other hand, it's exactly the kind of thing we came to expect from someone like Herman Cain, a guy with way too much money and ego,  a guy who only just wanted to sell his book and thought the way to do it would be to run for, Holy Pokemon!  President!  Of the United States!

But okay, this did not get past me:  Through no great feat of his own, and despite gaffes that might suggest "astonishingly bad comedian" rather than "honorable POTUS",  Cain rose to the top of the GOP nominees list and stayed there for a frightfully long time before toppling.  That means there are a whole lot of people out there who just aren't getting what I'm saying here.

That is just painful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just because I call myself a Journo doesn't mean I are one

This morning blogger John Aravosis, over at AMERICAblog, wrote about blogging vs. journalism after finding an article from AP about a ruling against an Oregon blogger who claimed protections as a journalist while fighting a defamation suit brought by a lawyer she called "a thug and a thief".

According to the AP article, a federal judge ruled that Crystal Cox ( from her website:  Investigative Blogger, Reputation Manager, Real Estate Broker Owner, Good Life International )  "was not a journalist and cannot claim the protections afforded to mainstream reporters and news outlets."

From AP: 
"The judge ruled that Cox was not protected by Oregon's shield law from having to produce sources, saying even though Cox defines herself as media, she was not affiliated with any mainstream outlet. He added that the shield law does not apply to civil actions for defamation.
Hernandez said Cox was not a journalist because she offered no professional qualifications as a journalist or legitimate news outlet. She had no journalism education, credentials or affiliation with a recognized news outlet, proof of adhering to journalistic standards such as editing or checking her facts, evidence she produced an independent product or evidence she ever tried to get both sides of the story.
Cox said she considered herself a journalist, producing more than 400 blogs over the past five years, with a proprietary technique to get her postings on the top of search engines where they get the most notice.
'What could be more mainstream than the Internet and the top of the search engine?' she said."
I predict that before this is over, every blogger who writes about politicians and public people will weigh in on this one. (At BlogHer, blogger LisaWasHere fills in some of the blanks, including the judgment: a whopping 2.5 million dollars!)   So here's my take, for what it's worth.

Some bloggers are journalists.  Some journalists are bloggers.  If a blogger wants to call herself a journalist, it's a free country and the blogosphere is about as free-wheeling as it gets.  But if you go so far as to call a public figure a thug and a thief, you might want to remember your journalistic standards:  You had better have some proof to back that up.

When I was writing columns and features for newspapers and articles for magazines, I had to submit bios.  If, in any of my clever little biographies, I called myself a journalist, you can chalk it up to my being new and full of myself and foolish enough to think that just using the word made me one.  (I would say I never did, but knowing that early me, there's probably at least one silly bio out there just waiting to prove me a liar.)

There are dozens of sources for journalism ethics, if any "investigative blogger" wants to make use of them.  The Society of Professional Journalists makes theirs public, and it's a pretty good one.  There are others out there for the taking, and they're not hard to find.  It's not about popularity, it's about digging out and telling a compelling truth.

I don't know what's going to happen to Crystal Cox now, and I really don't doubt that she has done some good work as a conscientious blogger, but I have to question whether high rankings in search engines actually adds to her creds as a journalist.  I mean--really.  That nutty assertion may have just lost the case for her.

Going by that line of logic, one might consider Andy Borowitz and websites like The Onion prime examples of true journalistic wonderfulness.  They both try to shine light on rotten politicians and public figures, they're good at it, and their rankings on Google are right up there.  (By the way, Crystal Cox's page rank is 2 points below mine at Ramona's Voices.  So much for that argument.)

(I loved this book. I don't have it anymore.  I'm going to ask for it for Christmas)
But the point of all this is that we bloggers do need to take stock of who we are and what we're doing.  Blogging is a brand new source of communication, and if the standards aren't yet written in a rule book somewhere, we have to go by our own gut feelings about ethics and responsibility.  We owe something to our readers, as few as they might be.  We are opinionists and muckrakers but we aren't necessarily journalists.  The differences might be vague at the moment, but all it takes is one judge slapping a 2.5 million dollar fine on one of us to get our attention. 

So can we talk about this?  It looks like it's that time.

Added 12/9:  As expected, there's much more to the Crystal Cox story.  Kashmir Hill at Forbes dissects the huge award and sheds light on why the jury thought it was more than appropriate:  It's here.  After reading the Forbes piece, the distinction between blogger and journalist takes a back seat to what would be really nutty behavior, no matter who's doing it.  Whew!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Newt to 'Really Poor Children': Buy Your Own Damn Ice Cream

Newt Gingrich is obsessed with the plight of poor kids these days. He's been all over the place talking about them, and I have to confess, the jollier he gets about his remedies for their plight, the more nervous I become.  It's an odd turn of events and one rife with suspicion.  It's Newt we're talking about.  Newt, who eats mean for breakfast and swallows the seeds.

Newt, who put a contract out on an entire nation, namely ours, and is still fretting over the insistent existence of a labor movement that was scheduled to die circa Reagan.  (He's got another, bigger contract ready to roll on Day One.  Fair warning.)

Newt, who sings "Only I can make this world seem right. Only I can make the darkness brightOnly I and I alone can thrill me like I do and fill my heart with love for only me."

And encores with the stirring, "For what is a man, what has he got?  If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels.  The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!"

That Newt.

(Let the record show Newt has so far ignored the first lines of the above tune.  The part where it says, "And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain...".  Yesterday, in fact, Newt told ABC's Jake Tapper he WILL BE THE NOMINEE.  I guess that means all debates are off now?) 

Ordinarily I wouldn't care about Newt's $60,000 per speech blabbings about stupid child labor laws and how really poor kids from really shiftless families will resort to stealing unless he steps in and puts them to work, but after some lengthy and intense investigation, I find I have barely an ounce of faith in this current century's sanity.  That dimpled nasty man could very well be running things come January, 2013.

 There are some who defend him by reminding us that there's nothing wrong with kids doing a little work. The kids feel good about themselves and the upside is that, as Newt says, they can buy their own ice cream someday.  Nice, really, that.  In a sane world we might actually picture our sweet darlings helping out and getting paid a tiny reward, leaving everybody happy, happy, happy.

But that's not what Newt means and that's not how he put it.  This is how he put it:

“Start with the following two facts. Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.

I come around to this question. You have a very poor neighborhood. You have kids who are required under law to go to school. They have no money. They have no habit of work. What if you paid them part-time in the afternoon to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they come in? What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian?  What if they became assistant janitors and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?”

That's not helpful, that's hateful.  And full of hidden meaning.  What does it mean when Newt says, "You have kids who are required under law to go to school"?  Will there be an addendum to Newt's 2ist Century Contract on America abolishing school attendance for "really poor kids" so they'll have more time to do all that rewarding work?

When the kids take over as assistant clerks and assistant librarians and assistant janitors, what does that do to the work hours of the real clerks, librarians and janitors?  I'm reading between the lines and seeing part time jobs with no bennies for everyone as part of Newt's grand plan.  He's Newt, after all, clearly not Mr. Empathy.  If you've followed Newt at all you know how strongly opposed he is to equality of the masses -- the kind of thing any signs of empathetic weakness might very well lead to.

Lots of kids work after school and weekends now, even amongst the "really poor".  It's what kids do when they get old enough.  They baby-sit, they do paper routes, they cut lawns, they wash cars, they run errands.  What they don't do any longer is work in sweatshops under conditions that could maim or kill or rot the spirit.

From Utata Tribal Photography:  Lewis Hines, photographer, 1906  "Hines kept detailed notes on the children he photographed, including comments they made as he interviewed them. The twelve year old boy in the [above] photograph was unable to read or write. He'd been employed by a textile mill in Columbia, South Carolina for four years, since the age of eight. He told Hines, 'Yes, I want to learn, but can't when I work all the time'."
 Any student of history will tell you the reason we aren't allowed to work kids like that any more is because the laboring masses organized and put a stop to the exploitation of children by the privileged few.  Newt the Historian seems to have forgotten that.

But on to other things Newt, because, again, there's a mighty strangeness afoot:  The Great One told Sean Hannity over at Fox, apropos of nothing, that, "I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress.”

And, okay, I have to ask:  How many communists were there in congress?  Were they as hard on us as the teabaggers in congress today?  Can you give us a few tips on how to get rid of subversives?