The spirit of Xmas

Chi Trib columnist Eric Zorn on 12/23/04 took aim at Christians with their backs up about Christ being frozen out of Christmas, choosing a very fat target for his opening shot. This was "Jeff from Memphis," calling in to a talk show to complain that Christmas has been "taken over by the Kwanzaa group and some of these other radical groups." Zorn saw his opening and took it. "Ooo, 'the Kwanzaa group' is it now?" he wrote, and off he went:

"'The Christmas group' pulled the same sneaky trick in the 4th Century" by co-opting winter-solstice traditions for their own purposes, he wrote, unloading a point he seems to have been dying to make, gleaned from his research on sneaky groups over the centuries. Ooo, Kwanzaa group = 4th-century Christian church. Ooo and double-Ooo.

"Jesus is not 'the reason for the season,' as so many from 'the Christmas group' have smugly informed me in recent weeks," he wrote indignantly. It's "the return of the sun in this hemisphere," celebrated in other ways -- Zagmuk, Sacaea, Saturnalia, Kronos, Yule, by Mesopotamians, Babylonians and Persians, Romans, Greeks, and pre-Christian Germans respectively.

Well thank God, if I may use the expression, for someone finally giving it to smug Christians with their cruddy 2,000-year-old viewpoint.

He is quite irritated about hearing people say "Merry Christmas" aggressively, performing an "in-your-face sack dance . . . meant to underscore Christian dominance in American society." What the heck is a sack dance, for one thing? And what's this "dominance," which has him mad as hell and unwilling to take it any more?

He quotes a columnist about a "revolt" by Christians, and then scurries for the high ground of the detached who really has opponents' better interests at heart: "It's sad to see these angry people turning a glad tiding into a battle cry."

Glad tiding? Zorn is turning Christian? No. Dickensian maybe. He's a Bob Cratchit fan and loves that cheerful bearing up under hardship, the born-lame Tiny Tim on Bob's shoulder and all? He's for "seasonal jollity" and the "true spirit" of Christmas, urging Christians to observe it. The reason for it is something else.

Just why the heck is Tim cheerful, for instance? Good genes? That old winter solstice? Zagmuk, Sacaea, Saturnalia, Kronos, pre-Christian Yule? What the heck is the reason for the season, anyhow?


Funny, funny . . .

Funny 1: Chi Trib head, p-1, about heavy snow in Mich. City, IN:
"Snow's White Dwarfs Town"
Funny 2, in not same way: Obit writer says deceased "had a plethora of hobbies," intending to say nothing bad about the dead. But a plethora is too much,"an excessive amount," as in a plethora of complaints. One is reminded of the golden moment of moviemaking when El Guapo's lieutenant in "Three Amigos" laughed at the word and El Guapo asked him what it meant. to the lieutenant's chagrin.


Chi Trib has p-1 story, "School district spending gap widest in years," meaning between highest- and lowest-spending districts, both of them with almost the same test scores! The same-scores news is in the 8th paragraph, where it is presented as raising "a more fundamental [than spending gap] and politically sensitive question: What does it cost to . . . educate a child?"

I'll say it raises that question. And others too, for readers who turn to the jump page, 16, where they may read that the lowest-spending district, in far South Suburban Frankfort, saves money by partnering with the park district for maintenance and program space and with the library, has higher than average class sizes and less experienced (and so less expensive) teachers, and puts more kids into a building, as 900 in one elementary school.

Good for Diane Rado and Darnell Little for bringing these things out. But that 8th-paragraph item, given good attention in several more paragraphs, actually should be the lead item: Money Doesn't Matter in Top and Bottom Spenders or something like it. That's man biting dog and thus news.

The current headline, on the other hand, as above, is (a) old stuff, even with the "widest in years" part, and (b) possibly phony.

The spending gap is not new, for one thing; so this head is as much propaganda as news.

The gap between top spender and least spending, $20G to not quite $5G, for another, ignores the substantial gap between top and #2 spender, $20G to $17.4G -- not mentioned in the story at all but shown in a jump-page table. So the top spender, a district near extra-expensive Lake Forest with only 130 kids, is an aberration and nothing to build a story on.


Instapundit has item about alternative weekly in Nashville busted for taking prostitution ads, heads it "More crushing of dissent in John AshKKKroft's America," crossing out the last two words and subbing "Phil Bredeson's Tennessee," referring to the governor on whose watch this happened. He comments:
Okay, Bredesen undoubtedly had nothing to do with this. But, then, John Ashcroft often got blamed for things he had nothing to do with, too. And how can anyone expect an alt-weekly to stay in business without sex ads?
Is that a trenchant observation, or what?


The sports page remains the truly entertaining part of a newspaper. Chi Trib columnist Mike Downey keeps up the tradition of Warren Brown, John Carmichael et al. He's not as dry as they, but this is in-face time for writers all over; so he does pretty well in the more or less detached manner that sits well with discriminating readers.

Today he has the first nay-saying I have seen about Magglio (Maggs) Ordonez, who just left the Sox in mid-level dudgeon with harsh remarks about management, mainly the GM. Downey lists various things to show Maggs's not being fair or even truthful, but one stands out: he made $14 mil last year.

That's been known, of course. But wouldn't it be good to state that early and often in any pro-sports employment story, as in "Magglio Ordinez ($14G/yr)" stated routinely, just as "R.-Ill" or "D.-Mo." is routinely stated for a member of Congress. We still love those guys and root for them and sympathize with them in their various troubles, but perspective is important too.

Elsewhere in Downey, and this is delicious, is his notation that in San Francisco, where hero Barry Bonds has recently claimed the lotion he used was not illegal, the Giants will continue to sell hot dogs without telling people they contain "potentially harmful carbohydrates." Yes! Not to mention calories.

D. also notes the Marquette students who want teams to be renamed Warriors, as in Ojibwa, etc., dropping the current, correct Golden Eagles name, which in Wisconsin, says D. is the only thing "not named for a Native American." This is not noteworthy, except that it leads a reader to recall that our so-called Native Americans (not native-born, like Downey, me, and many others) are actually our Oldest Immigrants, going back a very long time. They came from the northwest, I believe, paddling the Bering Straits, which couldn't have been an easy journey. But this is the sort of observation I do not expect to find in a newspaper, not even on the sports page.


From Peggy Noonan's Wall St. Jnl column today about Hillary C.:

She is inevitable as a candidate, but not as a president. There will be serious drawbacks and problems with her candidacy. When she speaks in a large hall she shouts and it is shrill; she sounds like some boomer wife from hell who's unpacking the grocery bags and telling you that you forgot not just the mayo but the mustard.


Chi Trib page one has big feature w/pic about Hmongs in Twin Cities area – "We are Americans ourselves now. How can Americans hate us?" is quote from a "community leader" in St. Paul, over heartwarming four-column color shot of kindergarteners catching snow on their tongues. "The killing of six hunters stirs fears of a setback," apparently in Hmong-acceptance levels, reads the subhead

So six hunters were shot dead by a Hmong, and the talk is about people hating Hmongs. Where is story about why this guy went postal with a hunting rifle and whether other Hmongs are prepared to do the same?

This is journalistic do-goodism. Front-Pagers of yore were sneaky, unprincipled sensationalists – I know this because I saw Chicago the musical – but at least they defined news as man biting dog and not as an exercise in social work 101.

There was a news story, of course. It ran 11/23, with this at its tail end:

Vang had been arrested once before, on Christmas Eve 2001 in Minneapolis, after brandishing a gun and telling his wife he was going to kill her, said Ron Reier, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department.

He was arrested on a felony complaint of domestic assault, Reier said. After being held for at least 36 hours in that incident, Reier said Vang was released after his wife declined to cooperate with authorities.

You wouldn’t know about that from this 12/4 page one feature.