Christmas Commentary Uncategorized

Hillsboro’s War on Christmas

A demonstrator dressed as a Santa Claus is arrested by riot policemen during clashes with students in Santiago

Two things burrow their way under my skin every year at Christmas, two sides of an ugly coin. The first and generally loudest are the inevitable cries about “a war on Christmas” that, at some point each year, generally when ratings are ebbing, are spewed by right wing trolls and other despicable human beings gleefully exploiting the fears of the waning evangelicals. Bill O’Reilly, the particularly cynical and slimy Fox provocateur, is one of the worst of the breed, but he is by no means alone; any right wing loudmouth looking to grab a ratings point or two can play the game.

Just as bad, and sometimes worse, are the hyper-sensitive knee-jerk liberals determined to protect the huddling masses from the onslaught of what they perceive as sectarian propaganda—the loudly mewing left who, if they could, would prove the spastic fears of the overwrought right to be absolutely on target—the delicate flowers who would indeed wage war against Christmas, if they could.

All those bastards, left and right, drive me crazy—worse than Donner went when he saw Rudolph’s Vegas-strip nose. We don’t have a War on Christmas. We don’t need a War on Christmas. Stop pretending there is one. Stop plotting to begin one. I mean, it’s Christmas, for chrissakes! Lighten up.

Santa under arrestAnd that brings us to the most ludicrous story from last week: officials in the Hillsboro, Oregon (a suburb of Portland, which should explain a lot) issued a memo instructing teachers and staff not to include Santa Claus in their seasonal decorations. Specifically:

“You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus,” the Hillsboro School District said in a letter to staff, television station KATU reported.

Full disclosure, lest you think me a stealth Christmas Warrior—I’m actually a fire-breathing atheist, deeply resentful of the intrusions of Christianity into my life, my children’s education, every level of our government, and so forth. I understand the compulsion to liberate children from the perpetuation of bronze-age superstition as a guiding force in our culture, but I’m also as deeply concerned with power structures that would force blind secularism on our day to day life. Christianity is deeply embedded in our culture and our children should not be shielded from it. Indeed, I believe that we are doing a great disservice to those children when we shroud them from one of the dominant streams of our culture by not preparing them to function in a reality that is filled with people who identify as Christian. This is not the place to be ostrich-heading.

But, but, but…I hear a dozen of my friends sputtering over being “forced” to face Christianity when they shouldn’t have to, if they don’t want to, and I’m truly sorry about that. I even understand: I had to spend a few days in Baltimore several years ago, something no good western Pennsylvanian wishes upon even the worst of enemies. I saw Ravens jerseys and ball caps everywhere, and I survived. My children did not become Ravens fans because of the exposure. We may even have developed a grudging sort of respect for them and their strange beliefs—we understand them a little bit better. Nothing leads to anger, resentment, and conflict faster than ignorance.

It is utter madness to ban Santa—Santa!—who ceased to be a primarily religious icon decades ago. If anything, Santa represents generosity, kindness, fair play and morality—values I believe to be universal. He also stands for marketing and commercialism, but not ever icon is perfect. Still, I’m okay with being a little more sensitive to overtly religious icons—crosses, angels, manger scenes—but I’m stuck on this idea that maybe instead of all this fear of offending we reach further for some real understanding. Instead of throwing Rudolph and Santa and all that stuff out of school, instead of banning stuff we—drum roll—practice inclusion. Give me Santa. Hell, give me shepherds guarding their flocks by night but let’s hear about the Maccabees, let’s hear about Ramadan.

I know there is an adamant mass of folks who stridently cling to the conviction that America is about white people sitting around and sternly respecting our Hebrew god, but the America I see—even in my corner of northern Appalachia—is generously populated with Hindis, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others in mind-bending subsects, diversity within diversity, and I don’t think it is overly idealistic to believe that a lot of our domestic problems—and eventually our international problems—could be mitigated if we actually knew who the people we’re always so eager to dislike actually are.

In the meantime, let’s skip the war on Christmas, both the perceived and the proposed.


Colleges Ban “Selfies” At Graduations

Just when I’ve reached maximum smugness in my quest to be the stodgiest, crankiest, post-luddite resister to technology, a bunch of college administrators have gone and made me look like a card-carrying member of the electronic cognoscenti–a real live, glowing tech wienie.  Go figure.

To be clear: I loathe our society’s fetish for new technology and the cult of planned obsolescence that drives it.  I have a dumb phone, not a smart phone–it supposedly takes photos as well as receives phone calls (when I happen to turn it on, which is rarely), but I couldn’t tell you how.  It costs me $84 a year via tracfone–$20 plus tax every 3 months for 60 minutes plus 60 bonus minutes, and I’ve saved up thousands of minutes. I keep the phone in my truck, so I always know where it is–but I won’t answer if I’m driving.  Clever, right?

glass-blowerThe version of windows I use is so old it’s made from blown glass.

Windows 8 makes me angry.  Really angry.  Throw glasses and kick the cat angry.  I don’t use my daughter’s laptop because it unnerves her when I shout and curse at inanimate objects, but it’s the idea of the thing as well as that incomprehensible, alien interface.  Some geeks locked in a climate-controlled cell in Redmond, Washington decided that it was time to take a perfectly good, largely intuitive system and declare it outdated.  Why?  Because they can.  Because you’ll buy it.  Because some of you rushed to buy it the minute it came out–blasted early adopters, you’re the worst of the worst.

The difference between the tech addicts and lemmings is that lemmings rush over cliffs in a harried state of semi-consciousness, the result of some strange biological imperative related to a delicate sense of the world around them.  The tech-crazed, while they may be semi-conscious due to obsession with their tiny wittle eensy weensy touchscreens, throw themselves happily on the jagged rocks below, having willingly paid for the chance to do so.  Indeed, they look forward to it.

I was appalled when,  just days ago, a good friend of mine proposed that computer coding be added to our school district’s curriculum, as advocated by some group of geeks somewhere–I followed the links, read some arguments, and shook my head: not my thing.  Should broader tech ed be available at young ages?  Absolutely–but foisting that agenda on all students is a lot like making the argument that everyone who drives, or will drive, an automobile should take 12 years of design and engineering classes.  But, that’s me–I don’t need to teach my computer to do things I don’t need it to do.  It’s purpose is to serve and entertain, equal parts herald, messenger, librarian and jester.

It should be shocking to you, then, that I’ve been appalled by the story that a handful of colleges and universities have banned the utterly obnoxious ritual of “selfies” at their graduations.  First among these was Bryant University–that’s right, Bryant is in the news again!  It is little wonder that the administration of Bryant is banning this vanity–they are constantly on the tongues of mainstream America, an assault on our senses unprecedented in our time–Bryant!  Bryant!  Bryant!  They must be fearful–understandably–that they’ve reached the saturation point of cultural and media exposure.  We’re all sick of Bryant–if we hear ONE MORE THING about Bryant!  Argggghhhh.

Or not–because, let’s be honest: this is the first and last you have or will have heard about Bryant.

Since this (non)story broke weeks ago, administrators at Bryant and South Florida University (are these places real?) have back-tracked a bit, explaining that the ban was merely to help speed along ceremonies and preserve a sense of decorum, but I’ve been unable to find a withdrawal of the threat withhold diplomas from violators, nor have I found any references to students actually facing punitive measures for violating the bans, so the point is pretty much moot.

It’s an interesting situation to consider, however, and a curious position in which I find myself in commenting upon it–no matter how derisive I feel about our cultural obsession with trendy tech, I’m far more enraged by accounts of arbitrary authoritarianism. I don’t consider myself particularly rebellious, but there is nothing worse–in a regular, day to day life–than penny-ante autocrats exerting their limited powers because they can.  Threaten to withhold a diploma at the bitter end of a student’s 4 or more year slog through academia?  That’s on par with the Deli lady at the old A & P store near where I grew up, who forced you to take a number even when you were the only person in the store.

Or is this story just a whole lot of nuthin’?