Sweet Christmas!

I only tell you this in the interest of transparency. It’s really none of your business, and most of you frankly just don’t care…but the tone of this blog sort of requires a bit of backstory regarding my philosophical beliefs. They’re fairly nebulous. If I absolutely had to define myself, I’d go with quantum-spiritualist. Maybe a super-agnostic. Saganite Buddhist. I believe that as we learn more about our universe via quantum physics and the exploration of space, the more we find that yes, maybe some of those philosophers that lived and taught two millennia ago were on to something. Those giants of aniquity sensed things about our universe that they couldn’t quite explain, truths that they felt in their very cells, but for which they had no mechanism for exploration, other than to just ask “what if?” That’s why all the really good old Greek and Roman figures happened to be scientists and mathematicians as well as soul-searchers and dreamers. They were trying to figure out the universe from both angles, and perhaps the world would be better off if we did more of that sort of thing nowadays. All that being said, I’m here to heap 100% of the credit for what we know as our traditional holiday season at the feet of our Christian brothers and sisters. They deserve it.

My atheist and new-age intellectual friends are surely interrupting with “but Christmas itself is a pagan holiday!” And they’re right, of course: it goes even deeper than that and much further back in time. The Winter Solstice has been recognized by cultures since humans first started scribbling on cave walls. It evolved into Celtic and Nordic observances and then into the full-blown Saturnalia festival of ancient Rome. And that’s where Christianity took the ball and ran with it.

jesus-football

Jesus was clearly forward of the line of scrimmage.

Early Christian leaders were a savvy group. They knew that their religion was bound to spread like wildfire simply by telling the common people about the great news: simply accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Redeemer, the incarnate son of the One True God, confess to him your sins, and presto! Eternal life! It really was too good a deal to pass up. But the church knew that The People enjoyed certain practices and celebrations as part of their culture that would not easily be given up. So the Christian leadership wisely said “Fine, you can keep your silly rituals. But we’re totally rebranding them.” So instead of pagan fertility rites involving eggs, rabbits, and other symbols of baby-making sexual intercourse, the church offered instead to celebrate renewal in a very literal sense: the return of Jesus from the dead. And of course, the Saturnalia (or, amongst the “barbaric” German and Celtic peoples, “Yule”) became not only a celebration of “the return of the sun” but of the “birth of the Son.” It made perfect sense. And once the emperor Constantine began establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire sometime early in the 4th century, the deal was truly sealed.

That’s why we have Christmas trees instead of Yule Trees. Or Holiday Trees. That’s why we have Santa Claus (Greek bishop St. Nikolaos) and gift giving and such, right there in the dead of winter. Not that all of those things, the reindeer, the mistletoe, the holly, the candy canes and gingerbread houses, were necessarily Christian in origin, but because of the rapid and total spread of Christianity, these customs all fell under the same umbrella. They became universal. Sure, the Polish Santa might be unrecognizable as Swiety Mikolaj, but the idea remains intact.

MerryOldSanta

Oh, that’s a doll. Thank God. I thought I was going to have to write a really dark Polish Santa joke.

 

Christmas drives everything in December. Hanukah wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for Christmas. Nobody would have ever heard of Kwanzaa if it took place in June. They’re just piggybacking on the runaway rollercoaster of goodwill that Christianity started. Jesus had momentum. Plenty of room on the Midwinter Bandwagon.

But here’s where the dark clouds roll in. The sad truth is this: there have been plenty of bad Christians out there saying and doing enough stupid shit that the non-believers or folks sitting on the fence of religious belief are being driven from the church by these actions. Fighting against marriage equality, spouting hateful (and mostly untrue) things about Muslims on Facebook, thinly-veiled racism and hypocritical greed, misogyny, the abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests…all of these things have stained the reputation of the once-infallible and all-powerful church.

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Pictured: everything bad.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. No, Christianity didn’t invent this holiday. But they took it and gave it to the world. You don’t have to be part of the church or its belief system to appreciate that. Nor do you have to be washed in the blood of the lamb in order to enjoy a cup of eggnog with friends you haven’t seen in years. It’s okay to enjoy everything the holiday season offers, no matter where you are in your spiritual life. And for fuck’s sake, it’s okay to call it “Christmas.” It totally is. I mean, chances are you don’t worship the Norse pantheon (although more and more Icelandic folks are doing just that) but it’s still okay to use the words Wednesday or Thursday. Like it or not, Odin’s Day and Thor’s Day are still right there on the calendar, and even Frigga gets some love with Friday. It’s fine. They’re just arbitrary names for things. Just words. They can’t harm you. They don’t stand for anything evil; they don’t commemorate a dark, bleak, tragic day in history. I also get that some of my well-meaning liberal brothers and sisters are hung-ho in their desire to shield the world from the insidious indoctrination policies of Christian evangelism. They have armored themselves in Political Correctness in an effort to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table. They really do mean well, but…dude. It’s Christmas. The reason of the season. Absolutely. It just is.

The ultimate point to all this? Don’t be afraid to call the holiday by its actual name. Use the word “Christmas.” It’s just a word. It’s not even a bad word. And like it or not, the Christian church is responsible, in a roundabout way, for your vacation days around that time in December. Had Genghis Khan run roughshod over all of Europe back in his time, we’d likely still have a celebration of the Winter Solstice and the gradual lengthening of our days…we’d just call it something else. But that didn’t happen. Christianity happened, thanks to the Roman Empire. So it’s Christmas. Big deal. Go to church if you want. Stay home. Put up a tree, or don’t. Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, Sikh…it doesn’t matter how you label yourself. You can still enjoy listening to Bing Crosby as a log crackles in the fireplace and children tear open gifts. And I really, really hope that you do.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Everything’s Cool.

I was going to call this post “Everything’s Cool, and That Ain’t Cool” or steal from Pearl Jam and say “Everything Has Changed; Absolutely Nothing’s Changed.”  But there’s really not a whole lot of negative to my thoughts on this subject, so I figured I’d leave it with the simple, hopeful, calming “Everything’s Cool.”  Because it is.  Literally.

There was an article earlier this year in Vanity Fair that basically said that stylistically we’re exactly the same as we were in 1992…twenty years ago.  The article points out that the styles of 1952 were vastly different from those of 1962, and those were different from 1972, and all of ’em were nothing like the fashions of 1982, and so on.  Basically, every ten years there’s a new way of doing things, and from car designs to clothing to music. There’s a big change with each passing decade.

Except, you know, Steve Jobs.

Not anymore.  According to the article, we’re stuck in a stylistic wormhole, reliving the same things for twenty years.  My initial reaction to this reality is:  Um…so?

In this very blog I’ve mentioned how cool it is that I can, in this 21st century, elect to wear a wide-brimmed Fedora and listen to Operation Ivy on my way home from seeing “The Avengers” in IMAX to play Black Ops II on my HD television before switching over to TCM and watching “Invasion of the Saucer Men” or settling in for a night of Star Trek (the original series) on Netflix or reading The Dark Tower.  I mean, I can literally do whatever I want from whichever time I choose.  Music, books, movies, television, fashion…all mediums and all genres and all styles and so on have been archived so well over the ages that we now have the sum of EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED at our fingertips.  That’s very powerful.  I can pick up a Nook or an iPad or whatever and read Chaucer or George R.R. Martin.  I can look at sketches and read translations from Copernicus or “A Brief History of Time” by Hawking.  That is so incredible.

Or hell, combine the two! Save time!

As for fashion, I’ve kind of developed the following philosophy regarding trends in fashion:  FUCK FASHION.  Have I been caught up in one trend or another over the years?  Sure.  And anyone who says otherwise is lying.  I rocked a blazer with a t-shirt during the early-2000’s.  But you know what I realized?  I also rocked that look in the early-90’s.  I was too young to really rock a blazer in the 80’s, when that seemed like the thing to do (thanks, Miami Vice!) but I’m sure I would’ve.  Also, that style combo wasn’t born in the 80’s anyway.  You know who started the shirt-sans-tie/blazer combo?  Jed fucking CLAMPETT, that’s who.

Well, I reckon it ain’t lupus! Can’t rightly figure what in tarnation it is, though.

I love this outlook in current trendy fashion.  Quick:  what’s the popular male hairstyle called these days?  Is it the high-top fade? The buzz-cut? The side part? The pomp? The shag? I’ve seen every one of those at the mall in the last few months.  What the hell is that mullet-shaven-skater cut that Skrillex is rocking?  Who knows?  More importantly, WHO CARES?!? Hell, I’ll make the question easier:  what’s the trendy female hair style?  Or hair color?  The bob?  The pixie?  The Rachel? (remember that?  Everyone wanted hair like the characters on Friends!)  In a world where Miley Cyrus goes with a near-buzz cut and one out of every four chicks sports either that bright fuchsia color (sometimes just highlights) or wears shiny blue extensions, I suppose anything goes here, too.  Katy Perry wears blue or pink wigs. Rockabilly chicks sport sleeve tattoos and Bettie Page ‘dos. The Katniss braid shows up here and there.  Short, sexy, sassy haircuts mingle with luxurious manes of auburn curls.  It’s literally all good, and it seems that for once (I am an outsider here, so forgive my naiveté) women are genuinely excited to see/meet someone with a strikingly different hair style than their own.  “Oh my GOD!!  I love you hair!!  Who does it?!?”  seems to have replaced “Uh, the 80’s called and they want their bangs back.” That’s so nice.

Just…so much…HAIR…

Sometimes I wear a suit.  Like, a real suit and a tie.  Sometimes I wear shorts and a hockey jersey (sidebar:  nobody cares about you anymore, NHL.  Not many people did before, but now?  Forget it.  You’ve effectively fucked yourself after an amazing playoffs including a first-ever Stanley Cup awarded to a team in the SECOND-LARGEST TELEVISION MARKET IN THE UNITED STATES!  Good job, assholes.  You all suck.  Owners, players, etc.)  Sometimes I wear a “Portal” t-shirt and some jeans.  Now and then, a baby-blue guayabera shirt and some linen pants.  And any time I wear one of these wardrobes in public, it’s like I don’t even get a second glance.  I love second glances, because I crave attention. It’s becoming harder and harder for me to glean that oh-so-wonderful attention simply based on my clothing alone.  Now I must stand in the middle of the Glenbrook Mall food court wearing nothing but an old Chick-Fil-A napkin that I’ve poked a hole in with my pecker (see, the napkin is impaled on my business) and a beaver-skin hat that I’ve set on fire before anyone even nods knowingly at me, like they’re in on some sort of joke.  I must essentially be a one-man flash mob these days.  It’s too much work.  And the reason for that is that anything goes.  Really.  Literally. Anything. Wife-beater-wearing women, utilikilt sporting fellas, old-school Mod Cloth dresses and slinky tube skirts.  Flat-brimmed caps with the sticker on ’em and tweed newsboy caps.  High-top Chuck Taylors, black Doc Martens, leather flip-flops, two-tone wingtips, alligator skin stiletto heels. Faded blue denim jackets, Hurley hoodies, Dickies work jackets, stoner-riffic bajas. Flannel shirts, athletic-fit moisture-wicking polos, pearl-snap western shirts.  All of it.  It’s all good.  Some of it has changed very little in the last twenty years.  Some of it hasn’t changed at all in fifty years.  Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Sigh. It’s not a chihuahua skirt, goddammit!!

Except, of course, for one tiny little issue.  The idea that maybe, just maybe…the reason that anything goes right now is that, well…there just aren’t any more ideas.  Nothing new.  We’ve reached the end, and so now we just recycle everything that’s already come to pass.
This theory is supported, of course, by looking at our popular entertainment choices.  Hollywood is staggeringly bad, simply re-hashing or re-booting old films instead of offering original, entertaining fare.  Another option, of course, is taking old television shows and making them into movies.  Then again, looking at the television itself and seeing recycled shows like “Hawaii 5-0” and “Dallas” and you realize that we are indeed pretty much done giving a shit.  Musically, things are as bad as they were in the woeful 1985-1991 time period, when the likes of Foreigner and Boston walked the Earth side-by-side with atrocious crap like Every Hair Metal Band.  At least then we felt like something was coming.  Something new and slightly dangerous was bubbling up and threatening to upset the entire music industry.  I just wish I believed that something like the Grunge Revolution was going to happen again.  ‘Cause I’ll tell y’all right now, the answer ain’t dubstep.

This image speaks for itself.

In the meantime, I suppose I’ll just have to make do. I’ll avoid the Red Dawn remake like the plague, but revel in the fact that my black leather Brando-style motorcycle jacket will always be cool.  Unlike Crocs and Affliction shirts.  Seriously, that crap is stupid.  Stop it.

Wayback Interview: Charles Holland Duell

As many of you know, I have a fully-functioning time machine.  I use it all the time to give people the heads-up on things like the Miami Dolphins’  2015 Super Bowl win and so on (congrats to Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning!) But I thought it’d be nice to really see what this thing could do, so I decided to pry the minds of some of history’s giants.  Okay, maybe “giants” is a bit of a stretch…let’s say interesting footnotes to our societal timeline.  Grand.

First up: Charles Holland Duell. Who is he?  Only the most famous head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office EVAH!! Why is he famous? Because of something he said.  A statement that seems ludicrous today, and incredibly short-sighted. He once recommended that the Patent Office be discontinued because “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”  Dumbass.

"Also? This telphone nonsense is complete bullshit." - C. H. Duell

Charles agreed to let me interview him in the office he used after he was chosen to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC.  It was March 3rd, 1904 and as I entered, Judge Duell sat in a leatherbound chair, smoking a pipe and sipping brandy.  I politely declined his offer of a drink and sat opposite him in a similar armchair to begin the interview.

ME: So, Your Honor.  Do you mind if I address you in a more…familiar manner?

DUELL: Not at all.

ME: Can I call you Chuck?  Or better, Chuckie?  See, in the future there’s this awesome series of movies about a killer doll named Chuckie, and what happens is–

DUELL: You may call me Charles.

ME: Fair enough.  Speaking of the future, do you know if you have a great grandson named Doug?  Because he was my defensive partner when I played hockey in Evansville, and…well…you know.  Same last name.  Small world and all that.

At this point, Charles Duell glared at me in the way that only old judges with bald heads and white mustaches can glare.  He re-lit his pipe and took a long drag.  As he exhaled the blueish smoke, his eyes never so much as blinked. He was a tough customer, this Charles Holland Duell.  And his middle name was a country, so I knew I was in for a challenge.

ME: Well, let’s get right to it.  This quote of yours.  What were you thinking when you said “Every–

DUELL: Nonsense.

ME: Pardon?

DUELL: I never said that.  I never said anything like that.

ME: But…the interwebs…

DUELL: The which?

ME: It’s…it’s this thing that allows computers and mobile devices to…share…um, you can look up, uh…stuff.  I mean, it’s like…

More icy staring. I wondered how to explain Reddit or Wikipedia to someone that barely knew how steam engines worked.  I decided to move on.

Seriously, it's like a bunch of Dwarves got together to find a way to totally fuck the environment.

ME: So you’re saying that this quote that has been attributed to you for, what? Over a century?  You never said that?

DUELL: Correct. I know of this ill-attributed “quote” [editor’s note: at this point, Charles Duell may have given the first-ever “finger-quotes” in American history]  And if you would use your fancy Webnitron or what-have-you to do better research, you would realize that I actually implied quite the opposite.

Me: Oh.  Okay, when I get Back to the Future, I’ll look that up.  But…then, if not you…who?  I mean, are you suggesting that perhaps someone completely made that statement up?

DUELL:  Sir, you have a time-travel device.  Certainly you’re not so vacant and insipid that you believe everything you read.  You can read, can you not?

ME: Oh, I read good!

DUELL: But of course.  Young man, if I may…

ME: Young?  Dude, I’m forty-one years old!

DUELL: Wow…you look really good for forty-one!  I bet you work out, huh?

ME: Oh, yeah!  And you know the real secret? Clean living.

[editor’s note: none of the events from the last three lines ever happened.  Ever.]

DUELL: The truth is, I was and continue to be impressed with the breadth of creativity this great nation has spawned.  Here at the turn of the century, we marvel at splendid advances in the sciences and the arts.  Would you like to hear something that I wrote a few years ago on the subject?

ME: Yes, sir!

Charles Duell then produced a folded piece of good parchment, put on a pair of rimless reading glasses, and read his statement in an authoritarian baritone.

DUELL: Ahem.  In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.

He folded the paper lovingly and placed it back inside his jacket.  He then removed his glasses, took a long pull of brandy, and folded his hands in his lap.

DUELL: Have you any further questions?

ME: No, sir.  And thank you for enlightening me.

Charles Holland Buell’s mouth hinted at a smile, and he stood and firmly clasped my hand with his.  His hands were very warm, probably because the dude had spent all day chugging brandy.

DUELL: I envy you.  The things you’ll get to see, the music you’ll hear, the wonderful Velodrome Racing advances you’ll witness. [editor’s note: Velodrome bicycle races were fucking HUGE in the 1900’s]

As I turned to leave, I considered how badly I’d probably messed up the space-time continuum already, but couldn’t help myself.  I had to tell him.

ME: Your Honor, one piece of advice.  In about eight years, say you happen to be in Europe for any reason, do NOT buy a ticket on a boat called the “Titanic.”  Gonna sink, bigger’n shit.  The White Star line will brand it as “unsinkable.”  It ain’t.

DUELL: Another reason you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

ME: Oh, also?  Keep an eye on those Krauts.  Just sayin’.

DUELL: Duly noted.

 

VE ARE NICHT ZE KLAN! ALZO, ZIS IS NICHT EIN SUPERSOAKER!!