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Friday, November 28, 2014

That Time of the Year Again: The Two Christmases

It seems like the "War On Christmas" is starting earlier every year.  Kirk Cameron came out with a new movie this past month in which he tries to Rescue Christmas from them Godless Pagans.  And that means I need to trot out an essay I originally wrote several years ago for another blog of Alex's and which I like to re-post at this time of the year when our Culture Warriors begin putting the Vent in Advent.  It's all about how it's silly to wage a War On Christmas if you don't know which one you're shooting at.

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For a while back when I lived in Darkest Iowa, I shared a duplex apartment with my wacky brother Steeve and my friend Scott. One year, Scott asked me to draw some Christmas cards for him to send to his Internet friends. This was around 1990, back in the caveman days. We didn't actually have Internet access ourselves, but Scott had borrowed a friend's university account and spent a lot of his free time on a computer bulletin board based out of the University of Iowa. For a while, both Scott and I were forum moderators at that site, (despite the fact that neither of us were students at U of I and in fact I was an alumnus of Iowa State).

I drew three different designs for him. One was a parody of Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" featuring the bulletin board's Sysop. One was a fairly bland one with a picture of a computer made out of snow. The third one bore the message "Have a Happy and Blessed Christmas Season."

"You can't say that," Scott said.

"Why not?"

"Because a lot of the people on my list are wiccans and atheists and agnostics. They'd be offended!"

Personally, I didn't see why they should. The message wasn't making any kind of religious statement; it just extended good wishes. My own attitude was, to paraphrase Bette Midler, if they can't take a blessing, screw `em. But since I was doing the cards for Scott in the first place, I acceded to his wishes and changed the message to a non-controversial "Greason's Seetings."

I think about Scott and his cards when I hear about the "War on Christmas". I suppose my experience should put me on the side of the Righteous Warriors out to protect Baby Jesus from the Evil Secularists. Somehow, though, I can't get that worked up about it. If a cashier wishes me a "Happy Holidays", she's expressing a hope that nice things happen; the same as if she had said "Merry Christmas," "Groovy Kwanzaa", "Swingin' Solstice" or "May the Great Bird of the Galaxy roost on your planet." I don't have to celebrate any of those things to recognize and appreciate nice intentions. In the same way, I don't have to consider it an affront to God if somebody says "gesundheit" when I sneeze instead of "God bless you." Take it in the spirit in which it's given.

At one time I used to get all bent out of shape about the Secularization of Christmas. I particularly detested the deification of Santa Claus. When I was in junior high and full of adolescent anger and self-righteousness, I wrote an abrasive, curmudgeonly piece on the subject which upon saner reflection I threw away. A thirteen-year-old curmudgeon is not a pretty thing. My views towards Ol' Saint Nick have mellowed since then as I have come to accept what I call The Two Christmases.

There are two holidays celebrated on December 25th. One, of course, is the Feast of the Nativity, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then there's the other holiday, the Feast of Jingle Bells and Jolly Fat Men in Red Suits and Reindeer with Luminous Noses. Both holidays happen to have the same name, but they're different.

I celebrate both; and I don't see why the two need to be mutually exclusive.

Where the Christmas Warriors get it wrong is where they assume that the holiday has to be either one or the other. To a certain extent, I can sympathize with their point. I worship Christ, the holiday's namesake; and it does bother me when the earthly Babel sounds of the secular festivities drown out the song which the blessed angels sing. The Puritans felt this way and so they banned Christmas all together when they ruled England under Cromwell. Which is a funny way to honor a man who loved parties and who used feasts in his parables to represent the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christmas, as it is celebrated today, has a rich and varied tradition; sacred and secular, spiritual and commercial, tacky and sublime. There's a lot of Christmas stuff that I deeply love, despite having no connection to the Nativity story and only a tenuous connection, if that, to my religious convictions: family get-togethers, the giving of gifts, Vince Guaraldi`s piano music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas", just about any adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Thurl Ravenscroft singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".

When I was little, our family had a devotional booklet that we used every Christmas called The Talking Christmas Tree. Instead of setting up the Christmas tree and decorating it all at once, we'd put it together bit by bit. The first night we'd just put up the tree. The second night we'd add the lights. Then little by little we'd add more to the tree and we'd have a devotion talking about how each addition could symbolize something about God.

Now I know that most of those decorations, and the tree itself, can be traced back to pagan sources, which is why the Puritans had such a problem with the holiday. But part of the joy of Christmas comes not from purging the religious holiday of all secular dross, but rather of finding things in the holiday bramble that enrich and illuminate the spiritual aspects.

(According to one story, Martin Luther put up the first Christmas tree. Walking home one winter, he was so struck by the beauty of stars shining though the evergreens that he brought a tree home and put lighted candles in its branches so his family could see. And right after that, Philip Melanchthon invented fire insurance. This story is almost certainly untrue; other scholars trace the decorating of trees back to pre-Christian times; still, it's a good story).

It works both ways. Just as Christians can enrich their celebrations with aspects of the secular holiday, so too can Christian elements filter out into to world at large. Usually these elements are diluted: sentimental crèche scenes, platitudes of "Peace on Earth", Madonna and Child postage stamps; but God's Word does not return empty; not even when it's been wrapped in tinsel.

If we limit Christmas to only Christ - which I do believe is the most important part - then we also exclude those who aren't Christian from the holiday; we become in effect dogs in the manger. If we actually wind up driving people away from that manger, then we ain't doing Baby Jesus any favors.

"Happy Holidays" is a blessing, and ultimately all blessings come from God. The proper response isn't "That's Merry Christmas, you PC secularist!" but rather "Thank you; and a Merry Christmas to you too!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don Lemon and Cosby's Accuser

Before anyone asks, Rape is wrong, and treating women as sexual objects is wrong. I am not herein suggesting any rape victim has deserved their rape.  CNN Anchor Don Lemon told a woman who reported that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted her that she could have perhaps prevented some of it by fighting back, specifically, biting the penis. The internet and social media are going wild with mockery of such a statement.  This is perhaps less mockery but we are paying attention to the act of Don Lemon interviewing the accuser.  If Lemon had let the accuser speak without being challenged, he'd have perhaps been accused of not doing his job.  Although it seems to me, the bias is towards the accuser in such cases of public airings versus the courts, even if the defense attorneys and ultimate victory in courts are very much on the side of the wealthy and famous.

Don Lemon discredited his CNN Anchor chair by seeming to attack the accuser, and suggest something that seems perhaps to be a fantasy.  If only the starving children in Africa would live near food, they wouldn't starve.  If only the people of Buffalo NY would move they wouldn't get dumped with snow.  If only...   But this isn't altogether true.  Whether men should rape is obviously known, they should not.  But whether they do or not, is entirely different.  Words are the weapon of the PC people.  Don't do this does not equal people not doing this.  Because a woman has a right to wear anything and not be called a slut, not be catcalled, not be insulted, or hit on, does not mean she won't be.  She is likely to be all of those things. Men should not say or act upon those words, but they do. 

So this isn't me, Alex Ness, saying Don Lemon is stupid.  I haven't a clue if he is.  This is me saying, you can say whatever you like, and it doesn't change reality.  Men rape, men are assholes towards women.  The issue at hand is about men's behavior and words, and Don Lemon said something that was fantasy, or words without a backing in reality.  It to me reflects the ridiculous PC world of words over reality.  The reality is, the woman in question was being attacked.  Her first instinct was possibly how do I survive, not how do I hurt this fucker.  People need to understand that what we need is a change of reality, not a change of words.  Instead of telling people just fight back, long after the attack is done, ask perhaps what was going through her mind at the time.  Get a sense of the victim's suffering.  Don Lemon failed in that.

Rape is a volatile issue because at least in some cases it can be a POV issue of men/women.  But there are ways to measure damage to a woman, through the rape kit, and if there are repeated victim stories that have a common accused there can be a narrative created, and more.  I am not accusing Bill Cosby, but, Lemon's seeming defense of Cosby by seemingly asserting that if it were rape the victim could have stopped it by biting the penis, suggests a desire to soften the event, and make it questionable.

I suggest Lemon has made himself an ass by acting as he has, and has not helped clarify the issue.  But I suggest, we need a different way of dealing with rape in America.  We need to acknowledge that it happens, treat it as being something horrible, and not try to explain it away through the fantasy of words.  Fantasy of words in the PC world go both ways, both to obscure, and to falsely enhance.  I suggest we begin to say what things are, rather than say what they should be.

Whether or not Cosby's legacy is secure does not matter one bit.  If he raped women, he should not be able to escape the punishment. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Robert Plant Doesn't Seem To Be A Money Grubbing Son of a Bitch

People will tell you that every decision in life comes down to money.  But in the recent affairs of Robert Plant, former lead singer of Led Zeppelin, it simply isn't the case.  I've tried to tell people this, and all too often I am called an idealist, or a reverse cynic, whatever the hell that is, or a wide variety of nasty names meant to suggest that I have no clue about how life works, because real people choose to take the money, over all other concerns every time.   

I am not a fan of Led Zeppelin and I can honestly say, there was a time I was watching a Robert Plant video when I had the flu, and the video caused me to vomit.  It wasn't his fault, but just for those who think I am worshiping him for his talent, or his choice, I am not.  For one thing, I don't know his motivation for turning down 250 million dollars.  Another thing is, maybe that amount of money just isn't enough to get back together with people he doesn't like.  I don't know the answer.  

What I do know, is, in this world people think he is fool.  I've seen the comments about this on twitter and facebook, I've seen the news items popping up all over the net.   Everyone makes their assumptions.  He is by no means a hero for turning down money.  He is not a hero for saying no to a reunion.  But maybe we should applaud his ethics for being willing not to do something he didn't believe in, just because he was being paid insanely huge amounts of money.  I've never made much money, so I can't speak for the choice he made, I'll never have that choice to make. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not D&D, Still RPG

This is a brief look at pen and paper RPGing of my past.  Your experiences will obviously be different.  I don't expect anyone to find their experience to match my own.   I have been asked what I have played that is not AD&D 1st Ed.  The list is long, but not deep, in that, I played a number of games once.  With RPGs you needed more than one player, and I guess, I found too many games not interesting enough to continue to play for play ease, or interest.  Another issue was it could be too hard to learn regarding the game vis-a-vis the players and game master.  There were other games that I liked a lot but I never found players to join me in my quest to play.   The success for me of any game or system began with, is it fun? Then you had to ask, was it worth the time it took to learn the system, and then, did it reward your time in that system?  Do you want to go back to the game and play more?  In most cases I found that the answer was yes the games were good.  But the average RPGers wanted to get stuff, they bickered, they were not there to play roles, they were there to roll dice and get shit.  So because gaming is joint story telling, my experience with most games was bittersweet.  The time invested by me was lost due to other players.  They were not interested in playing the way the games were intended by the designers of the games to be played.  


Tunnels & Trolls

This game is the highest scoring for me of the non-AD&D games.   The reason for it is, simplicity of learning the system, the fun of the general system, and, you can play it solitaire.  Get snowed in a weekend or two in Fargo with your work done, no books to read and no one can visit, and you’ll see the point.

Gamma World

Gamma World first edition was a bit silly, but, it was fun silly, and it worked in many ways.  The various orders and fractures of society do make sense, for what the world is actually going through.  I did not like some aspects of the game, and almost no one played the game and understood it in the same way as I did , but, I did enjoy it a lot.

Call of Cthulhu

This game did capture the flavor of the world of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  I liked the game mechanics, and the flavor of how the game is structured.   I ended up playing, however, with a load of stupid, or over confident jerks who thought guns and bombs would mean victory.  My professor of arcane knowledge and his assistant, who was a master of kung fu and also a bright man, were skilled and never went mad, but they were always cursed with people who accompanied them who wanted to kill what could not be killed.



I was always told, dude, you need to play Runequest, the combat is so much more realistic than D&D and it is more fun and the religious aspect is more real.  Well, ummm, when I played it, it was silly, and stupid, and made less than any sort of sense.  I am not suggesting Every round of every game of Runequest was like this, for every player, but my experience, (which this column of course reflects) was that RQ was truly a system that was ok, but in a setting that did not move me, with a world and monsters that I thought were boring and childish.  Your mileage will vary.  My mileage will obviously vary. 

Warhammer Fantasy RPG

This was a huge disappointment for me.  I love the culture of Warhammer, the monster names, the dark nasty beasts, the angry edgy warriors… but the game play was hard, didn’t make a lot of sense.  The players who played it were people who played the miniatures games, and didn’t want to play role playing, so, everyone who was at the table came looking for something else, and got nothing out of the game.  It was no fun.  However, I did use the names of some of the beasts in my AD&D world, and I call Orcs: Orks, as it should be.


I bought this game for cheap one summer and brought it with me to college thinking my friends and I could play.  But it had game mechanics that were not conducive to role playing, and ultimately, we couldn’t see the point of it.  Someone I knew ask for my opinion of the game, because they had bought it as well and I said, it is a nice looking game.   And truly, that is about it.  The pieces were nice, but, it had very little RPG potential.

Boot Hill

Cowboys, Native Americans, Outlaws, Sheriffs, Rustlers, all sorts of player potential comes to mind, but Boot Hill was dreadfully thin in the development of actual characters.  You might have fun in a gun fight, or it might last one shot, but even then, the gun fights depicted weren’t very realistic (My brother is an expert as is a friend from the military, and both could explain in great detail how it wasn’t even close to real).   All I wanted was a framework to hang my hat on and make use of for the setting, and to create my own system for shooting.  But it was really bare bones.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sports team names, racism and media perception.

I'm going to be blunt. Why are non-pejorative sports team nicknames based on Native American themes racist? Protest groups go beyond the pejorative names to say that names like Braves, Chiefs, Indians and Warriors are derogatory to Native American peoples. The claim is made that using these names in conjunction with smiling caricatures like the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo is demeaning to these people. 

So isn't it hypocritical that these groups are represented by smiling Native American spokespeople who stand in front of these "offensive smiling caricatures?"