50 Years of A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown ChristmasTonight will be the 50th showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I met my oldest friend Will in the 8th grade because of it. He had tape recorded the audio of the show and was typing it up because he wanted to do a production of it. Mostly, he just wanted to perform Linus’ big speech, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

We did eventually get it performed and made $12 and some odd cents that we gave to the Optimist Society. I forget how it happened, but Charles Schulz’s secretary contacted us telling us that it was a copyright infringement and that if we did that again, we would need to license it. It was all done very nicely. But it does rather show the silliness of copyright: kids doing their own theatrical version of A Charlie Brown Christmas and giving the money to charity should not be seen as a threat to an artist’s livelihood. But that is a discussion for another day.

I rather liked it when I was a kid. Now all of those Charlie Brown cartoons drive me crazy. The voice acting is terrible. But there’s also something a bit too sweet about them. And then there is all the religious stuff. The interesting thing is that by the end of his life, Schultz certainly could not be considered a believer. Of course, many people try to push against that, because there was a lot of Christianity in his early strips. But whatever he was at the end of his life, it wasn’t a Christian — except perhaps of the universalist variety (and even I can consider myself one of those).

A Charlie Brown Christmas is incredibly heavy handed. It always reminds me of my aunt who used to say in a disappointed tone that we don’t remember the “reason for the season.” At the time, I didn’t really understand what she meant. I mean, I understood that she was saying that we should remember it was all about the baby Jesus. But I didn’t understand it in the full evangelical sense of the lament that Christmas should not just include Jesus but that it should be just about Jesus. I find it incredibly silly today, because if Christmas were just a religious holiday, no one would notice it. It be right up there with Flag Day.

The contrast in A Charlie Brown Christmas is between the commercialism represented by Snoopy and the “truth” spoken by Linus. And that truth is from Luke, chapter 2. And if it is really the reason for the season, it’s pretty pathetic:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

It’s just the announcement of a savior. We are not talking the Sermon on the Mount here. There is nothing edify about it. And the truth is that by Christian theology, there is nothing special of Jesus’ birthday. In fact, among many early Christians, Jesus was just the receptacle for the Christ, who entered him at some later time — most often when he was baptized.

The big holiday for Christians should be Easter. It is Jesus’ death and resurrection that matters. Yet I never hear Christians complaining about the Easter Bunny and the commercialization of Easter. And I think I know why. Christians covet Christmas’ popularity. They want it for their religion. It isn’t about theology; it’s about PR. And it is sad.

But here we have 50 years of A Charlie Brown Christmas — nothing short of full out Christian propaganda, Yet we have to hear each year about the war on Christmas. Imagine the outrage that would take place if a single television show presented Islam in a similar light!

World Thinks US Biggest Threat to World Peace

Noam ChomskyI was listening to a lecture by Noam Chomsky, and he mentioned how curious it was that American presidents like to say things like, “Iran is the greatest threat to world peace.” The US media repeat such claims as though there were obviously true, although depending upon the time and ideological need, the “greatest threat” can be China or Russia or Venezuela, for that matter. But the real irony about it is that if you ask the people of the world, by a large margin, they think that the United States is the greatest threat to world peace.

Let’s think about Iran for a moment, because it is such a bizarre claim. I could be the most evil and violent person in the world, yet I wouldn’t be high up on the list of the greatest dangers to world peace because I have almost no power. The claim that Iran (or Iraq before it) is the greatest threat to world peace is ridiculous because regardless of how awful you think Iran is, it doesn’t have much power. Even a war involving only Iran and Israel would almost certainly lead to a major Israeli victory. About the only advantage that Iran would have would be its larger population.

On the other hand, the United States spends roughly 48% of all the money spent in the world on making war. So there is the US on one side and everyone else on the other side. The United States is a huge potential threat to world peace just on the basis of that. But of much bigger concern to me is what it says about a country that hasn’t been attacked by another country in almost 75 years, but still feels it must spend roughly half of all the world’s spending on military. That is a dangerous country — very much akin to the freaks who stockpile guns for the coming race war.

I read an old article by Eric Brown in the International Business Times, In Gallup Poll, the Biggest Threat to World Peace Is… America? You can tell from the headline that the writer doesn’t think much of that stat. He’s particularly surprised that “13 percent of American respondents rated their own nation the biggest threat to world peace as well.” But why is that surprising? I would certainly be part of that 13%. Who else is powerful enough to be the biggest threat? Really, this is part of what makes America so bizarre: we gloat about how powerful we are at the same time we tremble because we are so afraid of all the threats around us.

There’s also this idea that America is fundamentally a good country. We wouldn’t intentionally do anything wrong. I was amazed this last week that the US military came out with their findings that the Kunduz hospital bombing was an unfortunate mistake. And the media just bought it. The fact that the military tried to cover up the My Lai massacre doesn’t matter at all. We can always trust the US government, because America would never do anything intentionally bad!

Among these 13% like me who think that the US is the biggest threat to peace in the world, I’m sure there are very few who thought that Jade Helm was a secret government plot against its own citizens. Again: more American cognitive dissonance. Such people think that our government would kill its own citizens, but would never knowingly bomb a hospital that treated wounded soldiers regardless of who they fought for. And, for such people, it goes without saying, that our foreign policy is all about spreading democracy and helping the world.

One of the most dangerous things about America is just how ignorant we are about the way the world looks from outside our borders. And that’s the way the power elite of this country want things. This is why we have so many classified documents. This is why Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are considered such villains. They do represent great threats to the military, because if the American people knew what our government was doing all around the world, they would be far less likely to fund it. Our documents are kept classified so we can keep our people infantilized so they believe the lies that we teach grammar school students: the US is just trying to make the world a better place.

I’m not suggesting that the US is a terrible country. But as the most powerful, it is the most dangerous. And the fact that it doesn’t what its own people to know what it is doing shows that it is up to a whole lot of no good.

Morning Music: Black & White World

Get Happy!!I was learning to play the bass guitar when I first heard Get Happy!! The bass playing on it is incredible. That would be Bruce Thomas. For whatever reason, he and Elvis Costello do not get along. I suspect that it is a personal thing. But it could be musical as well. Costello has talked about his tendency to rewrite in the studio. This causes problems for a bass player of Thomas’ brilliance. It is hard to get a bass part that really works, and it has got to be annoying to get something that works and have the song suddenly changed.

Regardless, I’ve always been particularly taken with the bass part on the song “Black & White World.” Even after all these years, I don’t really know what the song is about. It has various references to photography and cinema — and the difference between the fantasy and reality. But more than that, I can’t much say. Still, it is a fine song.

Anniversary Post: the First Eclipse

Solar EclipseOn this day in 3340 BCE, the first solar eclipse was noted. And it was in Ireland of all places. There is much dispute about this. But what the hell: it’s a good excuse to talk a bit of eclipses. When I was younger, I always wondered why it was we didn’t have solar eclipses on every new moon and lunar eclipses on every full moon.

The reason is because the solar system is really a mess — everything is tilted this way and that. So things have to line up just so in order to get an eclipse. It just so happens that we have very special solar eclipses here on earth because the apparent sizes of the moon and the sun are almost exactly the same. If you were on the moon, you would experience a whole lot more solar eclipses — they would last longer than our eclipses, but they would also not be so stunning in their near perfection.

Regardless, it isn’t surprising that we humans would would have been making notes about eclipses for thousands of years. If this Irish notation of a solar eclipse is right, it is around the time that humans first developed written language. In other words: as soon as humans started writing things down, they were writing about eclipses. Because they are amazing.