It’s Christmas, 2017. The Republicans are happy as can be because they learned that even the most moderate members of their caucus can be bought for peanuts. We learned that Susan Collins was willing to deprive 13 million people of healthcare for the promise that the Senate would vote on stabilizing the Obamacare exchanges. But the deal doesn’t apply to the House, so it means… nothing. I don’t think she’s stupid. Like every national-level Republican, she hates everyone except the rich.
In a few months, even she won’t be able to deny that she did extreme damage to the United States of America in exchange for nothing. “Oh, how could her fellow Republicans be so nasty!” But she didn’t make a deal with the Republicans — she made a deal with the Republicans in the Senate. So at best, all this means is that Susan Collins is just stupid. I have no doubt of that. But the bigger issue is that Susan Collins is evil. I really hope there’s a hell and she burns in agony for all eternity. I mean that! But I’d be willing to go with a century.
Susan Collins Is Just a Synecdoche for the Republican Party
I don’t mean to be down on Collins. She’s just a symbol. She’s the “most moderate Republican in the Senate.” And that means she’s just about the most moderate Republican in Washington. Yet if you replaced her in the Senate of 1980, she’d be the most extreme. That’s modern America: we’ve gone off the rails. The Republican Party is crazy. They have control of the country, so the country is crazy.
But I guess we can be forgiven. This is how empires fall. What is interesting is that most people — the power elites especially — don’t think so. They think that the good times will go on forever. But it won’t. It’s like what Bertrand Russell said:
Yeah, every day it is just great! You fed and pampered and then one day is very different. That’s what will happen to us. There will be a new superpower. And then one after that. And so on and on. Yet the power elite will never learn. They’ll think the party will go on forever. It always has. No one has wringed its neck yet!
Aren’t Humans Better?
I know a lot of you think that humans are better. So do I! The problem is that the people who crave power and money, they are different. They lack empathy. They don’t know or care what it’s like to worry if their children will have enough to eat. They don’t know or care that others live lives of little fulfillment or choice. They don’t care that we are destroying the planet. They just care that their lives are great. And they convince themselves that it is all because they are so great.
At Christmas time, they should think of God. They should imagine that even if they are better — smarter, stronger, harder working — they aren’t that way because they made themselves that way. They are that way because God made them that way — or because of pure chance.
Meanwhile, all the people who learned the lessons of kindergarten — to share and treat others well — they do, at best, so-so. Because we don’t create societies designed to reward nice people; we create societies based on the law of the jungle with a tiny bit of humanity sprinkled on top so that the non-complete psychopaths can live with themselves.
The first Trump Christmas
This is the first Christmas we’ve had with President Donald J Trump. And really: I’m glad. He’s the president we deserve. He’s the president who represents the nation that we built. You know the Revolutionary War? The southern states went with it because they were afraid that if they stayed in the British Empire, they might soon be deprived of their peculiar institution. And northern slave ships might have been deprived of all that sweet, sweet slave money!
“No Taxation Without Representation!” That was just a slogan for the prols. England would give them representation. The Americans didn’t want it because their revolution had nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with money.
Putin is right to worry about the United States. We are dangerous and unpredictable. And we don’t care about our own citizens, much less those of other countries. Will we get out of the Trump presidency without a nuclear war? I give it a 50-50 chance.
I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care. But it’s more that I can’t care. All I see is suffering. And what does our government do? It stops refugees from getting asylum. It lets US citizens struggle after a natural disaster because they speak the wrong language and have the wrong skin color. They are throwing 13 million people off their health insurance so they can give more money to people who are already ridiculously wealthy.
And don’t believe the propaganda! These companies getting tax breaks are going to use the money to further automate their facilities so they can lay-off even more people. And to top it off, they are allowing dead people to give even more money to their kids tax-free. $5.5 million wasn’t enough; now it is double that. And they wanted to get rid of it altogether! It’s just that a few Republicans thought that might look bad. Oh, all those tough choices!
Merry Christmas 2017!
This is why we need Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman and all these other myths. We can’t believe our leaders. Remember when Trump ran as a populist and then filled his cabinet with people from Goldman Sachs? Remember when he said his tax bill would cost him a fortune? It is estimated that it will make him $15 million extra every year! And his family will be similarly enriched.
I don’t know what to tell you. Certainly, it is true that Trump supporters would still love him if he jabbed them in their eyes with a dagger. Republicans, of course, think that in February, people will see they have more money and be thrilled with Trump. But Obama gave middle and lower-income people a bigger tax reduction. When asked about it in November — after they had had it for almost a year — over half of them said their taxes were the same. More people said their taxes had gone up than people who said (rightly) that their taxes had gone down.
So the good news is that in the 2018 elections, the Republicans are likely to get slaughtered. My only hope is that this lasts to 2020, and that the Democrats get complete control of Washington and fix all the damage the Republicans have caused.
I don’t want anything for Christmas in 2017, 2018, or 2019. In 2020, I want to see professional politicians who actually care about America and Americans back in power. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know what we are going to do.
But if a group of people can mess this up, it is the American people. Thus far, they seem to understand that the Republicans are destroying this country. They are right. I hope they keep remembering this. Because I love this country. And I don’t want to see it destroyed so Donald Trump and his friends can get even richer.
Did you see this cabinet meeting where everyone tells Trump how great he is? This is what authoritarians do. This is not something I ever thought I would see in my country.
A Great Christmas Breakfast
There was this little cafe in Cotati, California that used to serve this thing they called Grandma’s Eggs. My first wife and I really liked it. But over the years as I got more into cooking, I saw that it had many problems.
First, the potatoes in it were cut too large. And they were fried and not usually cooked enough. So I’m going to explain to you the proper way to make this delicious breakfast dish. It also has the advantage of being fast to make.
The first thing you must do is get a couple of good russet potato and clean them as much as you think is necessary. I personally think that as a culture, we are way too hygienic. You don’t need to clean everything so much. That includes your bodies. Geez, people, give it a rest. There are only a few parts of the body that are really disgusting. And most people don’t clean them very well because they are disgusting. The anus is disgusting. The bellybutton is disgusting. Women seem to do a very good job on their vaginas. Men don’t tend to do as good a job on their penises. It’s no wonder most women don’t like giving blowjobs. And here’s something most men won’t admit to: blowjobs aren’t very pleasurable. Men seem to like them because women tend not to like to give them. I’ve talked to a lot of men, and mostly they don’t much like them. On the other hand, most men find a nice clean vagina a source of endless erotic enjoyment.
Where was I? Oh yes, potatoes. Cut the potatoes up into squares of about 3/8″ to 1/2″. Then put them in a microwave-safe dish and pour a little olice oil on them. Then mix. The reason for this is to stop the cut potato parts from sticking together. Cook them on high for about 4 minutes. Then take them out, mix them again, and cook for another 4 minutes.
Now this is tricky because the bowl will get very hot. What I usually do is to use two bowls. Transfirst the first cooked set into a second bowl.
Fry the Potatoes and Onions
Add about 2 tablespoons of butter to a skillet and then heat to the point where the potatoes are in that position where it really is hard not to eat them. while they lightly fry, get a small onion out and dice it. Add it to the potatoes. Then spice with about a half teaspoon of salt and an eighth a teaspoon of pepper. Cook until delightful.
In a separate mixing bowl, crack 5-6 eggs. Or 7. Or 8. I think it’s better for more eggs. But you don’t want it to overwhelm the potatoes and onions.
Now you just cook it until the eggs are solidified. And serve. It’s delicious. Really.
It’s the perfect example of how you just can’t go wrong with a dish of good ingredients. You can add other things too. Throw in some frozen peas or corn. Add anything else that you think will make it more delicious. You can also add grated cheese, but I really do think that’s a bit much. But sliced mushrooms? Can’t go wrong there! Whatever you like.
It is almost always the case that I make more potatoes than I need. So you can just put the extras in a container and use it for a future batch of Grandma’s Eggs. After you make the recipe a few times, you’ll get a good idea of how much potato you need for your guests.
I’m not planning to show up for Christmas until about noon. So I’ll make enough for me and not worrying about the rest of the clan.
My plan for the day is to make myself some wonderful Grandma’s Eggs, and then drink quite a lot more than I need to. All the difficult stuff has already been cooked. But I’d be fine eating Grandma’s Eggs for dinner. It’s delicious.
It goes really well with a bagel or an English muffin. But then I’m going to have to go on a diet. I’ve gotten so fat! It’s amazing! I didn’t think I was capable of putting on this much weight. It’s a good thing that I really don’t care anymore!
What follows is what I have written on previous Christmases when I didn’t even think something like this was possible.
The First Secular Christmas
Since I first started this blog, I have been creating posts for Christmas. I am, of course, an atheist. But I love Christmas. I love any opportunity I have to cook for large groups. So what follows will include a lot of stuff about food, but also material that will appeal to anyone who likes Christmas in a secular way.
I agreed to make dinner for five on Christmas day—not so much because I wanted to, but because I wanted to have prime rib for dinner. It turned out to be twelve people, but the bigger problem was that I created a four-course menu and had a wholly unsatisfactory kitchen. It was stressful and the results were so-so; but it worked. Many thanks go out to Brian Pricer for his amazing taste buds and invaluable help
For this I used a standard recipe that I mostly ripped off from a magazine without a cover. I’ve made it before, but this time it was utterly disappointing. This can be attributed to the fact that I used a tube of anchovy paste instead of making my own. Learn from my mistakes: always make your own anchovy paste. I don’t like making anchovy paste; the smell of the anchovies makes me gag, but this is a small price to pay for an acceptable Ceasar.
Cream of Tomato Soup
This may seem like an odd choice, but I thought it was a nice link between the salad and the main course—maybe because I love cream of tomato soup and have been searching for the perfect recipe for the last fifteen years and this represented an excellent opportunity to experiment. For me, this was the high point of the meal. The previous day, I made the recipe and it wasn’t so good. I made a few changes—a big one from Brian—and it made all the difference. Here is the recipe. It is based upon an idea from Cooks Dot Com to use cream cheese rather than heavy cream. (Actually, it had a fair bit of heavy cream too; I can’t help myself.)
I am too suceptible to the opinions of others—at least it comes to cooking. As a result, the prime rib (11 pounds!) ended up being over-cooked by about a half-hour. It was still very good; you can’t really make a prime rib that doesn’t taste delicious.
With the beef, I made an artery-clotting Asiago and Sage Scalloped Potatoes using an online recipe (it has errors in it, so if you try it, study it first and figure out how you will deal with them). It was very good, but it really needed more cooking time. In general, I prefer to have scalloped potatoes twice baked; I should have done that this time.
Finally, there were Julienne of Fresh Snow Peas and Carrots. I started with another online recipe, but my early experiments did not inspire. In the end, I added a little ginger (I like ginger a lot) and replaced the olive oil with grape seed oil (another suggestion of Brian’s). The grape seed oil made all the difference; it was great.
For dessert, I had planned to make a cheese cake. Brian stepped up, however, and did the dessert for me. He made a cheese cake that was not exactly to my liking; I think mine is better, but it was still delicious; you can’t go wrong with four pounds of cream cheese and a pound of sugar, right? But he also made a pumpkin pie that also included two other squashes. It was by far the best pumpkin pie I have ever tasted. It was amazing. I will get that recipe if I can and post it here.
In the end, at least it was an interesting dinner. And I didn’t have to eat turkey. And I learned a bit about managing a large dinner. And then I collapsed.
Merry Secular Christmas: The Second
For those who dread this day, but have nothing like cooking to distract you, I provide a few diversions.
First, there is Robert M. Price interviewing Tom Flynn on Point of Inquiry:
You may be alone, but you are not alone!
I’ve put together three Christmas Anti-Carols in a YouTube playlist. First is Porn Orchid channeling Tom Waits and Bauhaus with a cheery ditty (Oh! Give me a noose I can hang from the tree!), Christmas Sucks. Then we have the real Tom Waits with Christmas Card From a Hooker. And last is Eric Idle’s Fuck Christmas, with lyrics so you can sing along!
As we celebrate Christmas, the family has been listening to a local station playing holiday oriented songs. And then on came Bob Dylan doing one of the Christmas classics, Positively 4th Street. You can’t get enough bitterness and anger during the holidays. Merry fucking Christmas!
What Christmas is All About
My friend Will really loves this bit from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Or at least he did. I used to like it too. Now, I see it for what it is: Charles Schulz cramming his religion down my throat. He even repeats the damned speech in voice over! If you look back at his comic strip, he threw a lot of Christian mythology into it. To each his own. But I do think it is heavy-handed.
Of course, Schulz lost his faith and died more or less an atheist. Because he wasn’t an idiot.
It’s Not a Wonderful Life
The following parody of It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t all that funny. But I include it for personal reasons. You see, I’m a big Frank Capra fan. It Happened One Night is one of my very favorite films. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Lost Horizon are both excellent films.
But I can’t stand James Stewart. How he became a star, I’ll never know. His minor role in Philadelphia Story almost ruins the film, but even he can’t destroy something with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. But without a doubt the film he most completely destroys is It’s a Wonderful Life. Of course, even I have to admit that the film also suffers from Capra’s own excesses.
So any time someone parodies the film, I’m for it. Regarding this SNL parody: it has more real human emotion than the actual film.
Give the Jew Girl Toys
In my long standing commitment to ruining every holiday, here is Sarah Silverman performing Give The Jew Girl Toys:
I’m Mysterious, Folks — Live With It
In the following amusing scene from Keeping Mum, Reverend Goodfellow quotes from Isaiah 55:8, about the mysteriousness of God. I’ll give you a bit more than he does. It’s from the Old Testament. What’s more, it is rather older than other Old Testament books we know and love like Leviticus. Like most of the entire Bible, but especially the Old Testament, Isaiah is not what it purports to be. It was written by at least three different people over the course of 200 years. What we are looking at comes from around 600 BC, and is an excellent example of what a jerk God is:
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Here’s the clip. It is Rowan Atkinson. You’ll enjoy it, I promise. Consider it a gift to me:
But Goodfellow’s take on it is correct: “I’m mysterious, folks. Live with it.” Of course, the whole anthropomorphizing of God is silly. But in a broader context, it is how one must live if one thinks about these things. I suppose that most people are too busy or just plain reasonable to worry about such cosmic unanswerable questions. But this is why I say that the best theists are better than the best atheists, even though I am most clearly an atheist. Goodfellow understands that there are no answers, but he values the question. By saying that God is mysterious, he isn’t providing the tired platitude, “God behaves in mysterious ways.” It isn’t apologia; it is acceptance.
Now Goodfellow probably thinks that God loves him. I don’t know; I haven’t seen the movie (but it looks good). But given the observation—”I’m mysterious, folks.”—and the quote from Isaiah, it is meaningless to claim that God loves you. How would you possibly know? God is unfathomable. But I think, despite everything, we have to look at the universe(s) and think that it is a great privilege to have existed. And if someone wants to call that “God’s love,” I have no problem.
Personally, I have a hard time ascribing any kind of motivation to the universe(s). And if there is a motive, I am far too humble (And if you read me, you know that I am not humble!) to think that I am the result of that motivation. If the universe has a purpose, I am a byproduct. And that’s fine. Regardless, I am blessed. I have grace. And now you know, why none of the other atheists want to let me join in their atheist games.
Merry Christmas or whatever!
Sam Seder’s War on Christmas
From year’s ago, it is still a classic: Sam Seder’s battle with Bob Knight about the War on Christmas. (It’s embedded below.) Seder is hilarious in this segment. But the more serious thing here is that Knight actually claims that, “The war on Christmas is really the culmination of a war on faith.” Look, I’m pretty hard on atheists around here, but at least they are a minority group that is by and large despised in this country. They have real reasons for feeling marginalized. But Christians? According to Wikipedia, between 73% and 80% of Americans call themselves Christians. The fact that they play this victimization game is appalling. It is also shameful. I don’t think that Christians, without prodding from “leaders” like Bob Knight and Bill O’Reilly, would ever think there was a war on Christmas. Christians are allowed to celebrate the holiday any way they want.
I discussed this last year in, Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas. The issue is not that Christians are being harmed in any way. It is that their religion is so powerful in this country, that they feel persecuted when the entire society doesn’t rise up and say, “But we understand that, unlike all those other religions, your religion is true.” And this kind of thing coming from a huge majority is simple bullying. As I wrote:
The whole issue is made worse because the very Christians who hate “Happy Holidays” want to “put the Christ back in Christmas!” This creates a problem for those of us who think that Christmas is a secular holiday having nothing to do with religion. (I’ll discuss this later today.) We have no problem with “Merry Christmas” because it is just that federal holiday when you are expected to give everyone gifts and cook a lot of food. But if somehow people manage to turn Christmas into a religious holiday, then we will have a problem with “Merry Christmas.”
And really, if I were a Christian, I wouldn’t want atheists going around saying, “Merry Christmas!” I would think that was profane. Ditto for corporate retailers trying to suck up to Christian customers. But as I have noted many times before, most Christians talking in public are idiots. I don’t think for an instant that Bill O’Reilly speaks for the Catholic Church. He’s a “Catholic” because he was raised a Catholic. His religion, like those of most of the people you hear talking about this, is money.
There is no war on Christmas. There is no war on faith. That is psychotic delusion talk. And shame on any news organization that takes it seriously. Sam Seder takes it exactly as seriously as it deserves:
A Brief History of Santa
The great CGP Grey put the following video together two years ago this Christmas. It is “A Brief History of Santa.” Now I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the video, but in general, Grey has his facts together. So if it is wrong, I’m sure it’s just stuff around the edges. The main thing in this that I know is true (And important!) is that Santa Claus has basically no real connection to the fourth century Greek Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. And as anthropologist have long known, he (Just like Jesus if he walked the earth) was not white. That’s him there over on the left.
So enjoy and learn how we got Santa Claus as we now find him, including interesting facts about where he is supposed to live:
Special Christmas Birthday Bonus
On this day in 0 AD, Jesus was born. I tell ya, that one never stops cracking me up! According to scholars who are inclined to believe the Bible, Jesus is thought to have been born between 7 and 2 BC. And where the data 25 December comes from is open to debate. By around the start of the fourth century, the Church was just using the date without any real justification. Of course, because of gradual changes in the earth’s orbit, the actual date ought to have been slowly changed to some time in January. According the Wikipedia, “The date of Christmas may have initially been chosen to correspond with the day exactly nine months after early Christians believed Jesus to have been conceived, or with one or more ancient polytheistic festivals that occurred near southern solstice…” In other words, it’s a mess.
But this much is very interesting to me: there is a whole academic industry devoted to trying to tweeze history out of a clearly (and purely) religious text. And then people say things like, “Hey, Luke and Matthew agree on this point!” Like Luke and Matthew aren’t based on either the Q document or Luke based on Matthew itself. It’s all so silly. I’m with Robert Price: maybe Jesus was a real guy, but by this point, he has been so papered over with myth that there is nothing left of the historical figure. If you are a believer, you’ll just have to wait until you get to heaven. If you aren’t a believer, I think you should just place Jesus in the same category as Thor. And by that I don’t mean that Jesus doesn’t exist and isn’t God. I just mean that Jesus is some God that some people believe in now, or once believed in. The historicity question is nothing more than intellectual masturbation.
Bottom line: if Jesus was an actual man, there is roughly a one in 365.25 chance that he was born today. And who really cares? It’s an excuse for a party.
I do wish that Christians would stop getting upset about the use of Xmas. It is an abbreviation that goes back at least a thousand years. The X is just the closest that we have in English to the Greek letter Chi, which early Christians used as an abbreviation for “Christ.” Unfortunately, as in most things, it is the people with the most ignorant of ideas who are the loudest.
Christmas Music Doesn’t Have to Suck
I had wanted to put together some music for Christmas. But you know: music that doesn’t suck. This is a lot harder a chore than it sounds like. The truth is that most traditional Christmas music really is terrible. And I don’t say that out of some desire to be iconoclastic. Part of it is just that I really do have a low opinion of Perry Como. But I will admit that most of it is simply the fact that I’m just really, really bored with it.
Another problem is that most Christmas music is not organic. At some point in a star’s career, someone who worries about money says, “It’s time to release a Christmas album.” The star doesn’t understand why at first, but as soon as it is explained, he is on board. Everyone likes free money!
But despite the fact that most Christmas music is primarily about money (Fitting!) and tired, there are some songs that I like. Let’s start with a classic, “Blue Christmas” by Elvis. I just like his affected singing. Plus, it’s just a love song with some clever lyrics:
“Santa Baby” is a silly song. But Eartha Kitt is wonderful:
You know, there was a kind of “new wave” music that didn’t suck. Mostly, it was when they didn’t take themselves seriously and didn’t use synths. That’s why Tom Tom Club was better than the first Talking Heads album. And that why one of the most enduring Christmas songs is The Waitresses’
“I Know What Boys Like” “Christmas Wrapping”:
I’m sure there are others, but I don’t have time for a bunch of research or reflection. Ultimately, I think the best thing for Christmas is just to put on some great music regardless. But thus far this holiday season, I’ve been forced to turn off Bill Evans and Jacques Brel. But personally, I think that Mozart is very festive:
I hope you have a Merry Christmas, even if the music sucks all day long!
Avoiding Christmas Conflict
Are you wondering how you are going to get through this holiday season without killing your family members? Last year, I offered up a little advice, Pigeons and Politics. It was a little serious guidance from my years of both having reasonable political discussions and having ones that came to blows. Ultimately, the best thing to do is to avoid everything except maybe, “How about them Ravens?!” That is unfortunately as far as I can go. One of the best moments in The Birdcage was where Armand says, “How do you feel about that call today?” to Albert as they practice not being gay. Albert responds, “How do you think I feel? Betrayed, bewildered… wrong response?” But the truth is that Armand doesn’t know any more than Albert.
Luckily, The Onion offered up some helpful advice, Avoiding Family Conflict During the Holiday Season. Much of it is just amusing like, “Try to end thousands of years of entrenched prejudices before flying home and talking about current events.” Or: “Avoid anything that could trigger fights, like a history of family depression.” Or even: “Change name. Start new life.”
That last one is part of a broader category of actually useful advice. For example, “Split potentially huge family blowouts into smaller, more manageable bickering matches over the course of the holiday season.” Or: “Ensure each family member has their own table at which to eat dinner.” But most of all, there is this rather too detailed plan for the day:
Some of them, however, are just hysterically funny (not that the last one wasn’t). Consider, “Take the time to consider things from your brother-in-law’s point of view so you can fully appreciate how f**king stupid his perspective is.” Or: “Make yourself appear larger than you are around your father-in-law by standing up on your hind legs and puffing out your chest.” But my favorite sounds like something I’ve experienced, “Encourage family members to seek personal space when they need it by telling them the front door’s right f**king there anytime they want to use it.”
I hope this helps to make your holiday experience better. And if not: there’s always the train.
The Reason for the Season Is a Myth
The idea is that the canonical and non-canonical gospels are none of them biographies in the modern sense. Some were simply collections of sayings attributed to Jesus or stories about Jesus, some of them allegorical, some legendary, few historical. Others were attempts to write for Jesus the sort of literary and edifying biography then written about certain great Greco-Roman figures like Pythagoras and Apollonius of Tyana. But these, too, were far from what the modern scholar would consider to be historical.
Thus the work of the student of the historical Jesus is rather like looking for a historical needle in a legendary haystack. There is little to find, and it is not easy to find even that. Even so, some scholars have done a passable job reconstructing possible versions of the historical Jesus. Some paint him as a peasant revolutionist, violent or non-violent. Others make him a magician. Some an apocalyptic prophet, others a wandering sage.
And of course some of these Jesus-constructs are combinable. Each is a “historical Jesus” in that each is a viable product of the science of historical reconstruction. The trouble is, there is really no way of knowing how close to the real thing any of these reconstructions has come. And there never will be until someone smarter than us New Testament scholars invents a time machine.
The “historical Jesus” in the sense of “Jesus as he really was,” must remain, I am convinced, unknown to us. Thus it is fair, though admittedly a bit clever, to say that whether or not there was a historical Jesus, there is no longer. That is, even assuming Jesus of Nazareth to have been a historical character who actually lived, we have no access to him and never will.
—Robert M Price
The Christ Myth and the Christian Goddess
Chris Blattman and Social Purpose of Gift Giving
Chris Blattman is a political scientist at Columbia University. He wrote an interesting article this last week, The True Meaning of Christmas. I came upon it through a link at Economist’s View, and so I figured that it was going to be about the meaning of Christmas being commerce. It is good for the economy, as I note when I’m forced to drop by Target and I see that there are literally ten times as many people shopping as normal. But that wasn’t Blattman’s point at all. It’s rather the opposite.
Tim Harford: In Praise of Scrooge
Last week in FT Magazine, Tim Harford wrote, In Praise of Scrooge. It starts with the questionable claim that misers make the rest of us richer. While I accept that’s true if we had limited resources, it seems to me that misers (or people who burn money) are limiting economic flow and thus keeping most people poorer. But that’s not the main part of his article. He’s interested in the deadweight loss of Christmas: the fact that a lot of money is spent on stuff the recipient doesn’t want. Again, I’m not sure that matters at the macroscale. It doesn’t really matter what all those people at Target are buying so long as they are buying something.
Chris Blatman’s Response
Chris Blattman responded to this by noting that gift giving really isn’t about economic efficiency but rather cultural signaling. Clearly, that signaling can itself be economic as when the rich give to the poor. (Did you think that the Gateses gave all that money without getting something priceless in exchange?) But on the other side Blattman noted, “Think about gift exchange between relative equals. Cash would be pointless. I’d give you $50 and you give me $50. What would be the use of that?” Indeed, there is no use in doing that, and gift exchanges between equals must have to do with something else.
But think about that for a moment. Christmas really is good for the economy. But the most efficient system, by Tim Harford’s thinking, would be if we did no giving whatsoever. Or, to take Blattman’s example, if I gave my sister fifty bucks and she gave it back to me. This would clearly result in less economic activity. There would be fewer jobs. We would be in a state of constant recession. Now, from an environmental standpoint, that might not be bad. But given that our modern economy is based upon consumption and more consumption, we might want to work out how all of this would affect the working class before we call off the practice of holiday gift giving.
Gift Giving as Emotional Negotiation
The way gift giving really works is summed up by Chris Blattman this way, “Giving gifts also creates inequalities, very much on purpose. These gifts quietly say, ‘I did something nice for you. Now we’ll see if you pay me back and how. I’m watching and waiting.'” Now, he claims this sounds cynical, but I don’t think it does. People are constantly appraising their relationships. That’s all this is. It isn’t about wanting to make good on your financial investment, but on your emotional investment.
Gift giving is about that dance that characterizes our relationships. We are all still that teenager pulling off flower petals, “She loves me… She loves me not…” Gifts allow us to signal that we care. And it allows millions of people to have jobs in the winter that they wouldn’t normally have. It’s a winning custom for the whole of society.
Odds and Ends From Christmas 2015
Merry Christmas everyone! As you read this, I will probably be suitably toasted as I serve dinner to my family. But in Christmases past, I’ve written some rather interesting articles about the holiday and I want to share them with you. There are also other odds and ends that aren’t as directly related to me. It’s all quite interesting I think.
The Little Drummer Boy
I remember Christmas shows like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. I’ve seen them so many times, I have them largely memorized. But I have only the vaguest of memory of the other big Rankin/Bass Productions Christmas show, The Little Drummer Boy. It’s possible I blocked it out. I found the following video through Paul Bibeau’s article, The Five Most Traumatic Christmas Special Moments. It is a video with Jane Edith Wilson reading her essay about how The Little Drummer Boy scarred her. It’s very funny:
A Brief Political Interlude
This is too good. I often like Bill Maher. But when it comes to Muslims, he’s a flat-out racist. And that makes him a complete apologist for all kinds of vile government action. Mostly, he finds himself in the company of people who won’t battle with him. But this exchange with Glenn Greenwald is fantastic. Maher tries to extricate himself by mumbling, “That silly liberal view that all religions are alike because it makes you feel good.” Greenwald will have none of it. He comes right back with, “No, it makes you feel good to say our side is better… You get to ignore the responsibility that your own government has for the violence and instability in the world by saying, ‘Look! It’s that primitive religion over there that’s the blame!'” Exactly. Maher just “knows” that the problem is Islam, even though the closest he’s ever come to the religion is hosting Sam Harris.
Okay, this has nothing to do with Christmas, but somehow, I think it fits. It is an animated short by Enrico Casarosa called, La Luna. It’s wonderful:
Pasty White Guy Gets Cool Gift
Danger, Will Robinson! Very large picture of dumpy old white guy ahead!
The cool things about friends is that they know things about you. Yesterday, Will stopped by to drop off a Christmas gift to me. I knew that he had bought me a t-shirt and I figured it was something with Bernie Sanders on it. But no. It was a Gil Scott-Heron t-shirt, “Must be something we can do.”
And Will bought it before my Gil Scott-Heron week. Anyway, it is one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. To prove it, I’m providing this embarrassing (And blurry!) picture of myself:
The Santa Claus Conspiracy
As regular readers know, I think Paul Bibeau is one of the great treasures of the modern world. I still find it amazing that he isn’t a big star. But there is a quote told to struggling artists, “If you wonder why you aren’t successful even though your work is great, that may be the reason.” For most artists, that’s not true. But in Bibeau’s case it probably is. If he were half as smart and half as talented, he probably would be a star.
Back in 2012 he wrote, The Truth About Santa Claus. It is about the uncoordinated conspiracy of parents to play Santa. But in keeping with the undeniable fact that if you scratch a cynic you will uncover an emotional marshmallow, he wrote this:
As an emotional marshmallow myself: I agree.
And let’s finish off with the most recent Bob’s Burgers Christmas episode, “Nice-Capades.” It will only be around for another month, so you should watch it. Now. Trust me: your family will love it! (For the record, this includes one of the best jokes ever. After the mall Santa says, “You just kicked Santa out of the massage chair,” Gene says, “Isn’t that a song?” That’s brilliant.)
[Note: you have to pay for this now that Hulu has figured out that they are such idiots they can’t make money streaming a 22 minute show peppered with 7 minutes of commercials. -FM]
That’s it for now! Have a wonderful Christmas and try to be someone’s happy memory!
A Merry Christmas for Edwards and MacLiammóir
Once filming was complete, MacLiammóir, Edwards, and Cloutier were flown first to Marseilles, en route — as they believed — for Morocco again; but instead of North Africa, they were transported to the idyllic artists’ colony at Saint-Paul-de-Vence in Provence, where they were greeted gloomily by Welles, who immediately set off for Paris. A few days later they joined him there. No explanation was ever offered for any of these bewildering peregrinations. Their lives had turned into a major-key rehash of Waiting for Godot, with a dash of Kafka — major key because they were excellently fed and watered and the locations were all charming, but the sense of disorientation was acute. They were beginning to doubt whether they would see Dublin that Christmas: “feel sure that Orson has plans for large Christmas tree in marketplace at Mogador, entertainment probably to include brief but startling appearance of O himself as Santa Claus.” As if in defiance of the chaotic reality, Welles made a public announcement that Othello had completed filming and that he would soon be starting work on Ulysses, which was certainly putting a brave face on things.
The truth of the matter was that he was increasingly anxious about money; his last earnings had been in April, on The Black Rose. With no handy $100,000 on offer from a passing blockbuster, he had started to think in terms of a theater tour, to kick off in Paris and then to play such centers as Brussels, Antwerp, Lille, and Amsterdam. It would consist of a double bill comprising The Importance of Being Earnest (slightly cut) and Marlowe’s Dr Faustus (savagely cut). Edwards would direct Earnest and play Canon Chasuble and Marlowe’s Prologue; Welles would direct Faustus and play Algernon Moncrieff and Faustus; while MacLiammóir would play Jack Worthing and Mephistopheles, having by now presumably accepted that villainy was well within his range. Suzanne Cloutier would play Cecily and — “poor child,” remarks MacLiammóir — Helen of Troy, while Fay Compton, if they could get her back, would be Lady Bracknell. They would ask Dior to design the costumes and André Derain to do the set. Of course they would.
After a few more days of ebullient planning, still at the stage where everything seems possible — Dior? pourquoi pas? Derain? mais naturellement — Edwards and MacLiammóir gratefully returned, just in time for Christmas, to Dublin, where a card from Welles was waiting for them: “Miss you badly already and hope for wonderful things in New Year.” There were affectionate phone calls on Christmas Day, but no certainty as to what was going to happen next. Welles wrote to them from the Hotel Lancaster in Paris, by no means encouragingly: “As 1949 prepared to die of old age I want to acknowledge that I’ve made it pretty awful for both of you. Come what may (and it probably will) you deserve to know how earnestly I’m going to balance the budget before next Christmas…” But then, in the New Year, something wonderful happened, just as Welles had hoped: the French-Algerian financier/producer Edmond Tenoudji of Films Marceau came through with 12 million francs in exchange for the French distribution rights, so filming could resume.
Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band
Odds and Ends From Christmas 2016
Another Christmas. It’s a little interesting to mix Christmas and death. Better would be Easter and death. But whatever. Christmas is just an excuse to cook. But we now have a baby, Hector, who is the result of a US-Mexico collaboration. And I think it is very important that he grow up bilingual. So I bought him books on colors and shapes that are in both English and Spanish. And I got him a “first” Spanish-English dictionary.
But most of all, I got a Spanish translation of Are You My Mother?, ¿Eres Mi Mamá? The great thing about it is that it is properly translated. Many years ago, I got a Spanish-English edition of Green Eggs and Ham, and the Spanish was literally translated — no rhyming or anything. But check out how ¿Eres Mi Mamá?
La mamá pajarito
empollaba un huevito.
Anyway, let’s get on with our odds and ends…
The Reason for the Season
I remember whenever we would visit my aunt at Christmas she would make some statement about remembering the “reason for the season.” She, like most of the people on my mom’s side of the family, is a conservative Christian. And so the “reason” is Jesus and his miraculous birth. It’s kind of funny. My aunt is a nice person and all, but like most people in my family, she’s not educated. The Christmas story is so obviously fable! How can adults believe it? Even if you are a serious Christian, you have to admit that this is nonsense! And really: Easter is what the the religion is all about. Jesus’ birth means nothing.
The Historical Jesus
I like this quote from Robert M Price in The Christ Myth and the Christian Goddess:
The “historical Jesus” in the sense of “Jesus as he really was,” must remain, I am convinced, unknown to us. Thus it is fair, though admittedly a bit clever, to say that whether or not there was a historical Jesus, there is no longer. That is, even assuming Jesus of Nazareth to have been a historical character who actually lived, we have no access to him and never will.
Any reason for a party, but let’s not start setting people on fire.
The Trouble with Transporters
I’ve written about the Star Trek transporter a few times before. In particular, Using a Teleporter Is Suicide! And then more recently, More on Teleporters: It’s Murder! You know I feel strongly about something when I write two articles about it and each title ends with an exclamation mark.
CGP Grey dealt with the subject in the following video. It’s good. And it is easier than reading my articles. But he doesn’t touch on what is really the most important issue, which is that we die every instant (or at least each Planck time — roughly ten to the negative 43rd power). Consciousness itself is a lie. But that’s kind of a downer, and CGP Grey tries to stay upbeat.
Checking in With the Belchers
It wouldn’t be a Christmas post without a short word about Bob’s Burgers. Although I have to say that the show now has some competition. Bob’s Burgers really is the show of my life growing up. But Rick and Morty is more the show of my life now. I’ll explain that later. (Maybe I already have.)
This year’s Christmas episode was, “The Last Gingerbread House on the Left.” In it, Linda, Teddy, and the kids go caroling, while Bob gets drawn into yet another of Mr Fischoeder’s crazy adventures. The whole thing reminded me of my last few years of college.
I spent a lot of time with Andrea and her then husband Eric. Eric was a very good person to have around because he always had ideas for things to do. So in those years, the three of us — and a number of other friends — often found ourselves doing stuff that was, all and all, pretty cool.
There were two things that Eric wanted to do that we never did. The first was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m so glad we never did that, because I did not then know that my acrophobia was so extreme that I couldn’t have made it more than a couple of feet onto the bridge.
The other was that we should all go caroling. I liked that idea. But Bob’s Burgers shows what happens when people who can’t sing go caroling. It isn’t a gift you give to others; it is a gift you demand of others. And that isn’t really so bad — as long as you leave after one song. And if you can’t remember more than a couple of lines, so much the better.
Fairytale of New York
As I noted before, there are good Christmas songs. James reminded me of “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl. You probably know of MacColl because of her heroic death. It’s a wonderful song.
A History of Christmas
Several years back, R Elisabeth Cornwell wrote, A Very Atheist Christmas. And she takes on the issue of the supposed hypocrisy of atheists celebrating Christmas:
The Christmas tree, which became a part of English and American tradition through German influence is a recent tradition. The English took on the German tradition of the Christmas Tree during the Victorian era under the influence of Prince Albert. Americans, on the other hand, were likely influenced by the Prussians during the American Revolution as well as the many German immigrants who came to the fledgling nation. But evergreens have been part of human celebrations at least as far back as the Egyptians as a symbol of the triumph of life over death…
Christmas belongs to anyone who wants it, and just because I gave up believing in a god doesn’t mean I gave up believing in the love and joy of family. I did not give up the joy of celebration with my abandonment of the absurd. So to my religious and non-religious friends, I wish them all a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah from the heart and I hope they take it with the true spirit with which I give it — that of the spirt of humanity — something we can all celebrate.
And that seems like a very nice place to end this special edition of Odds and Ends. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas. If for no other reason, Christmas gives us all one more reason to be less of a dick than we usually are.
Ho ho ho!
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