Monday Reads: “Christmas Is At Our Throats Again.”

Matisse woman reading2

Good Morning!!

It’s only 10 days until Christmas, and I really can’t wait until the whole dreadful thing is over and we can go back to normal life. Even though I generally ignore “the holidays,” no one can really avoid being affected by the insanity of it all.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a piece about the empty feeling so many people have at this time of year. The author is Arthur C. Brooks of the {gag!} American Enterprise Institute, but I’m trying to ignore that too for the moment. He opens with a supposed quote from Noel Coward: “Christmas is at our throats again.” I can’t believe I’ve never heard it before.

Abundance Without Attachment

“Christmas is at our throats again.”

That was the cheery yuletide greeting favored by the late English playwright Noël Coward, commemorating the holiday after which he was named. Less contrarian were the words of President Calvin Coolidge: “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Which quotation strikes a chord with you? Are you a Coward or a Coolidge?

If you sympathize more with Coward, welcome to the club. There are many more of us out there than one might expect. A 2005 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans were bothered “some” or “a lot” by the commercialization of Christmas. A 2013 follow-up confirmed that materialism is Americans’ least favorite part of the season.

Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.

Read the rest if you’re interested. I have some issues with the author’s point of view; if he’s really into nonattachment, why is he employed by the AEI?

wise men

I also came across this piece from last December 20 in The New Republic. It’s a reprint of an essay from 1990 by James S. Henry.

Why I Hate Christmas

Although for many years Christmas has been justified on the grounds that it is “merry,” rigorous quantitative analysis establishes that the opposite is the case. Despite claims advanced by proponents that the holiday promotes a desirable “spirit,” makes people “jolly,” etc., the data show that the yuletide time period is marked by environmental degradation, hazardous products and travel, andperhaps most importantinefficient uses of key resources. The holiday is an insidious and overlooked factor in America’s dwindling savings rates, slack worth ethic, and high crime rates. Nor does Christmas truly fulfill its purported distributional objective: the transfer of gifts to those who need them. Moreover, the number of people rendered “joyous” by Christmas is probably equaled or excelled by the number made to feel rather blue. In short, as shown below, although Christmas is an important religious observance that provides wintertime fun for children (who would probably be having fun anyway), it fails the test of cost-effectiveness.

Christmas consumes vast resources in the dubious and uncharitable activity of “forced giving.” First, it is necessary to factor in all the time spent searching for “just the right gifts,” writing and mailing cards to people one ignores the rest of the year, decorating trees, attending dreary holiday parties with highly fattening, cholesterol-rich eggnog drinks and false cheer, and returning presents. Assuming conservatively that each U.S. adult spends an average of two days per year on Christmas activities, this represents an investment of nearly one million person-years per season. Just as important is the amount that Americans spend on gratuitous gifts each year$40 billion to $50 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s monthly retail trade sales. Extra consumer spending is often considered beneficial because it stimulates the economy, but the massive yuletide spike creates numerous harmful externalities.

Mistargeted giving is one indication of this waste. According to New York department stores, each year about 15 percent of all retail dollar purchases at Christmas are returned. Allowing for the fact that many misdirected gifts are retained because people feel obliged to keep them (such as appliances, tablecloths, etc., which must be displayed when the relative who gave them to you comes for a visit), and allowing for the widespread inability of children to return gifts, this indicates that up to a third of purchases may be ill-suited to their recipients. Christmas is really a throwback to all the inefficiencies of the barter economy, in which people have to match other people’s wants to their offerings. Of course, money was invented precisely to solve this “double coincidence of wants” problem. One solution would be to require people to give each other cash as presents, but that would quickly reveal the absurdity of the whole institution.

“Forced giving” also artificially pumps up consumption and reduces savings, since it is unlikely that all the silly and expensive presents given at Christmas would be given at other times of the year. One particularly noxious aspect of Christmas consumption is “conspicuous giving,” which involves luxury gifts such as Tiffany eggs, crystal paperweights, and $15,000 watches that are designed precisely for those who are least in need of any present at all (“the person who has everything”). Most such high-priced gifts are given at Christmas; the fourth quarter, according to a sampling of New York department stores, provides more than half the year’s diamond, watch, and fur sales.

Read the rest at the link. The points are actually more relevant today in the era of the new Robber Barons than it was in 1990.


Now to the news of the day.

A hostage crisis developed in Sydney Australia yesterday and it is still going on. One armed man was holding as many as 15 hostages inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe. There appears to be some connection with Islamic terrorism, but it’s not clear yet if this is a lone wolf or or someone actually connected to the Islamic State. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Efforts by police to negotiate a peaceful end to a siege of a cafe in the heart of Sydney’s CBD are continuing well into the night.

Police said they are dealing with an armed man, who has been holding an undisclosed number of hostages at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place since about 9.45am.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told an evening media conference that police were in contact with the suspected gunman, adding that “we are only dealing with one location”.

“Our plan, our only goal tonight is to get those people who are currently caught in that building, out of there,” Mr Scipione said. “Rest assured, we are doing all we can to set you free.”

Some hostages have now escaped. There’s lots more information at that link.

More from the LA Times:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed late Monday that the gunman appeared to have “a political motivation,” and local media reported that the gunman was trying to obtain an Islamic State flag in exchange for some of the hostages.

Two people inside the cafe had been seen pressed up against the window holding a black flag with Arabic writing early in the siege, which began about 9:45 a.m. local time. The flag appeared to say: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

The gunman claimed to have planted four bombs, two inside the cafe, and two elsewhere in Sydney, local media reported. Authorities declined to “speculate” about reports of explosives.

“I can’t speculate on what may or may not be, and that would be very unhelpful at the moment,” Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn said at an evening news conference. “At the moment we know that the person we are dealing with is armed.”

She declined to call the incident a terrorist act. “We still don’t know what the motivation might be,” she said, adding that authorities “want to resolve this peacefully.”


Sony Pictures is warning media outlets not to publish their hacked e-mails. From The Washington Post: 

After days of silence, Sony Pictures Entertainment acknowledged a voluminous, embarrassing leak of internal e-mails and other materials on Sunday, warning numerous media outlets in a strongly worded letter against publishing or using the “stolen” corporate data exposed by unidentified hackers.

The materials, particularly e-mails, provided an extraordinary glimpse inside one of the world’s best-known corporations. The initial stories based on the materials went viral and absorbed days of coverage last week, illuminating the high-powered dealings, petty squabbling and ego that can define Hollywood.

The company threatened legal action against news organizations that failed to heed its request, a strategy some legal scholars say would have a rough time passing muster under the First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press. Though no one has accused any news organization of participating in the theft, the letter appears to be a gambit to stop news outlets from reporting the documents.

Sony’s action came just as the hackers, who call themselves the “Guardians of Peace” reportedly threatened another dump of stolen data. The hackers have demanded the company withdraw an upcoming comedy based on a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

So the rumors that the hackers are from North Korea is true then?

The contents of the leaked data, which some analysts suspect may be linked to a North Korean regime furious over the release of Sony’s movie “The Interview,” included information on Sony’s salaries, business dealings, private health records and executive correspondence. Those letters revealed what’s been described in media reports as a racially insensitive conversation involving President Obama and disparaging remarks about some of Hollywood’s biggest actors, including Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s much more at the WaPo link.


After Elizabeth Warren’s speech in the Senate last week, many in the media are stepping up their efforts to get Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. It’s truly horrifying–almost an exact repeat of what happened in 2008 when the progs who now hate Obama’s guts–and eventually the Democratic establishment and the meda–handed the nomination to Obama, a candidate with only two years’ experience in the Senate. Obama at least had some political experience as a state legislator; Warren doesn’t even have that. And where would the money come from?

Some links to explore:

Wonkblog: Elizabeth Warren was told to stay quiet, but she didn’t – and it’s paying off.

WBUR Boston (NPR): Sen. Warren Warns That Spending Bill Sets Dangerous Precedent.

Huffington Post: The Speech That Could Make Elizabeth Warren the Next President of the United States.

Don’t get me wrong; I applaud what Warren is doing. But do we really want to nominate another presidential candidate based on one speech?

There’s been another police involved shooting of an unarmed black man–this time in Houston.

From the Houston Chronicle: Police: Man shot during traffic stop in southwest Houston.

Two police officers opened fire on an apparently unarmed man during a traffic stop in southwest Houston Friday night, allegedly shooting him three times for not following commands.

HPD officers pulled over the car the man was a riding in for an illegal lane change around 9:30 p.m. on Buffalo Speedway near West Fuqua.

According to authorities, the male passenger — identified by family as 38-year-old Michael Paul Walker — failed to obey orders and started to reach under his car seat.

“They saw the doors open up, one of the officers gave repeated verbal commands to stay inside the vehicle, then the officer went to brace the door to keep him (the passenger) inside,” said Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties. “At one point he had his arm all the way under the seat, right up to the elbow, as if he was trying to grab something … The officer gave him commands to show his hands … at that point the officer was in fear of his life and that of his partner.”

The officer fired at the man. Initial reports suggest that Walker then got out of the car and was walking around the parking lot of a convenience store before he was shot again.

“The suspect got out of the vehicle … he was digging into his pockets and waist band,” said Senties, adding that the second officer also shot the suspect.

Yeah, whatever. I don’t believe anything cops say anymore.


Raw Story has a report from a witness to the shooting: Bystanders plead with unarmed black man to ‘lay down’ after Houston police repeatedly shoot him.

Laquesha Spencer told Local 2 that she was yelling at Walker, “‘Lay down, they are going to shoot you. They are going to kill you.’ And I guess he was in shock, he had already been shot three times, because I heard multiple gunshots.”

As Walker was stripping down, the partner of the officer who first shot him opened fire, striking him again. Police then charged and handcuffed Walker, who was taken to the hospital where he is listed in serious, but stable, condition.

Walker’s sister, Laura, said she believes the police used excessive force and is already pursuing legal action. “He didn’t even have a gun,” she said, “he’s never owned a weapon.”

At least this police shooting victim is in the hospital, not dead.

Also from Raw Story, an update on events surrounding the police shooting of John Crawford for holding a toy gun in an Ohio Walmart store: Ohio cop threatens sobbing girlfriend with jail after police gun down man in Walmart.

Police aggressively questioned the tearful girlfriend of a young black man they had just shot dead as he held a BB gun in an Ohio supermarket – accusing her of lying, threatening her with jail, and suggesting her boyfriend had planned to shoot the mother of his children.

Tasha Thomas was reduced to swearing on the lives of her relatives that John Crawford III had not been carrying a firearm when they entered the Walmart in Beavercreek, near Dayton, to buy crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars on the evening of 5 August.

“You lie to me and you might be on your way to jail,” detective Rodney Curd told Thomas, as she wept and repeatedly offered to take a lie-detector test. After more than an hour and a half of questioning and statement-taking, Curd finally told Thomas that Crawford, 22, had died.

“As a result of his actions, he is gone,” said the detective, as she slumped in her chair and cried.

I’ll end there. I have a few more links for you that I’ll post in comments. What stories are you following today?

41 Comments on “Monday Reads: “Christmas Is At Our Throats Again.””

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    I’m with you: I am so sick of Christmas that I can’t wait for it to be over.

    This year I refuse to run all over creation trying to find the “right gift” for family who has more than I do. My kids “do all right”, have great paying jobs, and vacation several times a year so what can I possibly give them they either have or can afford on their own? Nothing!

    I’m handing out gift cards. Let them pick out what they want. When Christmas shopping begins in September a little of this “holiday season” goes a long way. Two local radio stations have been playing non stop Christmas carols since Thanksgiving for crying out loud.

    And the Sydney kidnapping is just another “religious” nutjob charging around and demanding that everyone believe his twisted logic or face death. Lunatics listening to the voices in their heads telling them they are carrying out “god’s will” by beheading, stabbing, shooting, and maiming the population at large. This is our future. More and more of these events by pitting one faith against another as if any of it makes the least sense.

    I’d like to leave a wake up call to wake me when it is over but I have a sneaking suspicion that it never will be. We are now engaged in a world wide battle of whose god will dominate in the end as superstition takes the place of common sense.

    Bah humbug to be sure!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Amen, Sister!

    • Fannie says:

      For sure Pat, our entire social system, and everything else seems to be built on religions. Earlier this summer I met a nice couple, who invited us to their home. Every room had a cross, or photo, something about Jesus. We remained respectful, and they stopped in to visit, I bet she looked around for something on the walls, angels, anything. We backed off, knowing what was coming down the pike, as far as come go with us to Church, we have a dinner there, we have a workout gym there, we have bingo there, we have a bowling alley there……..Just Friday, when they came and asked again, I point blank said, we do not go to any church events. If we are exposed at the park or the cemetery, etc, that’s another thing.

      You know I am from the bible belt, and raised a southern Baptist. I do have things that were given to me from my religious families, including my parents, and grandparents, they gave these items to me because they loved me. So I keep them stored in my Mom’s 1930 suitcase.

      My Christmas is different this year. It’s definitely family that make me feel cozy. I tell my kids, don’t get me nothing, I buy what I think I want/need. They know that. They work, so I try to give small gifts that will save time in kitchen, I give lots of food that has been frozen, canned, or dried. Then I start this week doing my breads, fudge, and sugar cookies. I do this with my grandkids, so they will have memories of being in my kitchen, and cooking with granny. I make my own body lotions, and face lotions, and some cleaning products. And then I have the little kids in my neighborhood, little Josie who calls me Apple, because everytime she goes for a walk she points to me house and says apple. I have her come in and pick out an apple from the basket. She just turned 2. Then I have the boys, and they luv coming in for a snack, hot chocolate and cookies. Then there is the old walking partners around here, I give them a treat for holidays, and homemade biscuit for their dogs. That’s what I love about Christmas, and the smell of it all.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        You truly sound like somebody I would love to know!

      • ANonOMouse says:

        I wish I was your neighbor Fannie, especially when you’re baking

      • janicen says:

        Oh yes! Especially the smell of it all! Fannie, you could publish this comment as an essay about the holidays. It’s that good.

      • I wish I lived next door to you Fannie.

        • janicen says:

          Thanks for your reply below, JJ. I’m afraid I upset everyone by not being unhappy about the holidays. That’s just not me. My brother Mark died on Dec. 22, 2006. It was the worst Christmas of my life but I was able to cling to my sanity by forcing myself to stay strong and keep it together for the sake of my daughter because I didn’t want her to remember Christmas that way. That’s the thing about holidays, we remember them. I couldn’t tell you what I was doing on December 16, 1998, but I can absolutely tell you what I was doing on December 25, 1998. Mark loved Christmas and I know he would have given anything to have just one more. I know there’s plenty to be unhappy about in the world and in our personal lives. My God I could write an entire blog just on the illnesses and challenges in my own family but I know that everyone has illnesses and challenges and no matter how tough it is for me, it’s tougher for someone else somewhere. I won’t ruin everyone’s humbug with my refusal to let my troubles drag me down. Happy humbug everyone. janicen out.

          • bostonboomer says:

            You didn’t upset me at all. I did reply that I enjoy spending time with family on the holidays. My complaints were about the materialism in the popular culture and how inconvenient it is to just get things done like grocery shopping at this time of year.

            I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday, and your invitation for any of us to stop by next year was so sweet.

            I’m sorry you got that message from my post. I really didn’t mean my to be negative–it was just my sarcastic “humor.” I would never want to hurt you or make you feel left out. Please forgive me. I’m happy that you shared your positive feelings about Christmas!


    • Pat Johnson says:

      Dick Cheney is the embodiment of evil. A nasty, snarling know it all who helped drive this nation into the swamp!

      This is a man who was given not one but five deferments from military service yet he bangs the war drums the loudest because he was drunk with power.

      If there is such a place in hell I hope he gets what is his rightful due when his time comes.

  2. Fannie says:

    Good morning BB, thanks for your posting this morning. It makes me sick to think about another 2008 in 2016. Elizabeth Warren is appreciated and needed for how she can help
    Hillary Clinton. Laws need to be changed in our political economy, and with the republicans in charge we are going to see things at it’s worst. I wonder too, about the level of violence increasing here, and most certainly around the globe. I am not going to pretend, these so called progressives do not have my respect, because they can’t show respect for the woman who has worked her ass off and earned it the hard way.

    Did Elizabeth’s Warren’s speech change anything in the bill? Did she stop the republicans from taking over her Native American lands (Apache), that should have been first on the agenda, was she in the res making her speech?

    When they start treating Hillary like shit, I’m throwing right back in their faces. They aren’t capable of winning in 2016 with this kind treatment of Hillary, and they better wake up.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    According to AP, Jackie’s “friends” continue to accuse her of lying while pretending they care about her; and one of the “friends” says he has been contacted by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and she is “rereporting” the Rolling Stone story.

  4. janicen says:

    I’m sorry that you don’t enjoy the holidays. In my household, we have decided that we are going to enjoy the hell out of the holidays and the only way to do that is to celebrate it the way you want to. We’ve aggressively taken control over our holidays. We spend time with who we want when we want. I’m done with rushing here and there to squeeze in obligatory visits and stressing out about the money we spend. We concentrate our money and our time on a very select few people we love and to hell with everyone else. That might mean staying home and turning on a few christmas lights and enjoying a movie night, or turning off the TV and reading some of my daughter’s old children’s christmas books to each other, or cooking/baking something special to share with people we love. Keep it simple, keep it small, keep it happy. It’s far more satisfying and memorable than the old hectic, expensive christmases and we haven’t gained 5 lbs or gone into debt. Oh, and singing. We sing carols all the time! lol!

    • bostonboomer says:

      I enjoy getting together with my family for Christmas. What I hate is the traffic jams, the crowded parking lots and stores and the general efforts of the media and corporations to shove their materialism down our throats beginning after Halloween.

      I long ago gave up buying presents for anyone but the young kids and I don’t send Christmas cards unless it’s to get in touch with someone I haven’t seen for a long time.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        My sentiments exactly. Halloween starts in late August. Thanksgiving is just a reflection on what will be spent on Black Friday. And Christmas in July is “celebrated” during heat waves.

        By January 1st look for the signs of Valentine’s Day!

      • dakinikat says:

        My last trip to the grocery store was awful. They were blasting the worst versions of christmas tunes ever. I’d be happier if they’d blast Handel’s messiah instead of what they do blast.

        • janicen says:

          I’m sorry you guys are so miserable about the holidays. I take joy in the fact that we celebrate and we’re not Christians! lol! We’re entertaining a Muslim friend on Christmas Eve. His ex-wife and son live in another state and he said last year it was almost impossible to find a restaurant open that wasn’t serving some kind of a prix fixe special so we’ve invited him to dinner. Don’t let the Christians claim all the joy.

          Next year, any Sky Dancer who wants to make the trip is invited to my house for Christmas Eve dinner. It will be peaceful and delicious and we can celebrate each other.

          • That is nice Janicen. I usually liked the holidays when the kids were younger. I know it is still nice to see them excited about the presents. But it just gets depressing when you can’t afford to get them the things you want to give them.

        • NW Luna says:

          I’d love it if they played Handel! I normally listen to classical or jazz. The pop Xmas songs drive me crazy. I don’t like “Christmas jazz” either.

          I’m not a Christian, so I don’t celebrate/observe Christmas anymore than I would celebrate Eid as I’m not Muslim either.

          I do like to get together with friends, and enjoy good food and music. One doesn’t need special days for that.

  5. janicen says:

    Those SONY emails are pretty damning. Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle? I hope she rips their throats out.

  6. dakinikat says:

    The truth about the New Republic: Kinsley, Krauthammer, Oliver North and a liberal magazine’s demented war on liberalism
    TNR spent the ’80s in bed with Reagan and Ollie North, backing tax cuts, proxy wars — and screwing liberalism hard

    • Pat Johnson says:

      I personally think the “beatdown” began when Nixon faced impeachment over Watergate.

      There has been little or no civility on any level since then. The “us” vs “them” campaign went into full gear about that time and we’ve never been the same since.

      “Irangate” was just another extension of “we can do whatever we want” which set the stage for Cheney and Co. to do just that.

      The GOP as a whole is unable to live with facts. They prefer “fear”.

      • Mary Luke says:

        I absolutely agree with you Pat, and I’ve been saying this for many years. I do not think the much heralded fact that we transferred power without literal bloodshed is the end of the story. The forced resignation brought an incivility to our politics and a wound to our country which has never healed, and a determination to “get back at” the democratic party which has now becomes a gangrene poisoning our entire government.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I watched it happen. I used to subscribe to TNR, but after the neoliberals took over completely I cancelled my subscription.

    • NW Luna says:

      Alterman is just now figuring this out?

  7. dakinikat says:

    I love the Coward Quote. It expresses exactly how I feel about all this over top forced buying and competitive christmas activities. Why o why can’t americans just use the day to relax and feast and have fun instead of have it be a culmination of overdoing everything that sucks about our culture …

    • ANonOMouse says:

      The Coward quote fits me like a glove. I no longer shop for gifts, I give gift cards and every year I reduce the number of people on my list. At this point I have reduced the list to children only. I don’t even give to the grown grandchildren anymore and I’ve told everyone in my family not to give to me or my partner, and they don’t. There are too many people in this country who can’t even put food on the table on Christmas or any other day to throw away money on people who don’t need it. Even though I don’t have much, I prefer to pay it forward with donations to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, or to hand a $10 bill to a checkout clerk at the grocery or at the drive-thru window because I know those people are struggling.

      • NW Luna says:

        For several years some in-laws would give me something even though I had specifically requested no gifts. It was always something which I had no use for, and went straight to Goodwill.

  8. dakinikat says:

    Hear Albert Camus Deliver His Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (1957)

    That’s in french, btw, here’s a written english version!

    Happy 100 Birthday to a great writer!!!

  9. ANonOMouse says:

    What is wrong with the PO-PO?

    TX Cop strong-arms and tasers 76 year old man.

  10. janicen says:

    Here’s an updated and more appropriate version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Although my daughter and I sing a smashing duet of the traditional one and our fav is the one from Glee. I’ll post that one below in case you haven’t seen it.

  11. janicen says:

    Glee version…

  12. Sima says:

    I too hate the Christmas commercial crap. Hate it. I don’t care much about the holiday one way or another. Yes, as a child and young adult, it was fun, thanks to my parents! I don’t give presents much either. What I do is donate to various charities. These change every Christmas. Then I write down the charities and why I donated ‘in the family’s name’ on cards and give the cards to my family. We’ve given goats, helped the homeless, donated to doctors without borders, helped planned parenthood, etc, etc. Everyone likes this and thinks it’s a better use of my limited dollars than buying them yet another thing they don’t need.