Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santa Von Clausewitz

Carl Von Clausewitz is often quoted as saying, "War is the continuation of politics by other means". I am not nearly so frequently quoted as saying, "The war on Christmas is the continuation of political correctness by a bunch of meanies".

Of course, I probably haven't been cited much for that since I just came up with it. Perhaps it will take off and help me procure a spot in Bartlett's. That will have to wait as I focus on the very real attacks on Christmas and Santa. I offer the following stories pulled from recent events. I call them, `The four reindeer of the apocalypse': "Your Santa is so fat...."

That he has to lose weight. At least if he wants to keep his job in Great Britain. Fearing that an overweight icon could serve as a poor role model for kids, a shopping center in Greenhithe, Kent has set up Santa boot camp to whip the corpulent Claus into a lean mean gift giving machine. They're worried that idolizing a portly man with presents will encourage kids to become fat themselves. They had no concern however that the children would don red clothing, grow beards and hang out with dwarves.

I'm surprised that they didn't toss in reduced carbon emissions since a thin Santa would need fewer reindeer to pull his sleigh, thereby staving off global warming. If the North Pole melts, Santa is homeless. The kids win, Santa wins, we all win.

"Who you calling a ho?" Apparently, all women within earshot of Kris Kringle's trademark laugh. Santa's in Sydney, Australia have been told to replace the ho, ho, ho with ha, ha, ha because the former could frighten children and be construed as a derogatory term meaning prostitute. Why ha, ha, ha is less scary is never explained, nor the fact that `ho' is not even a slang term in Australia.

There's nothing worse than not knowing you've been offended. I suppose while we're at it we may as well ban the seven dwarves from singing, "Heigh Ho" (Two dwarf references in one post. No small feat). Also, Cab Calloway's "Hi-De-Ho", Don Ho, Tally Ho, Ho-Hum, Land Ho, Westward Ho, Gung Ho and the play Okla-ho-ma. Ho my goodness. "Why don't you just tell me what you want from a safe distance?"

Our travels take us to Switzerland where Santas are banned from having kids sit on their lap for fear that the one with the beard is one that is weird. As in a pedophile. Evidently, Santa may be a sick freak that uses his position of power to convince good boys and girls to be bad.

Do they really believe that a pedophile would seek out a job as Santa and then abuse children in front of hundreds of people while the child's parents take photos for posterity? It is bothersome that a man seeking to bring joy to kids is presumed guilty of lying in wait to molest.

But this is nothing new. British Airways won't let anyone under 16 years of age sit next to an adult male stranger, even if there is a woman on the other side. The assumption is, all men are abusers. Following this reasoning, no gay couples should be allowed to adopt and Big Brothers needs to be disbanded. And it's best to submit your Christmas list by email. Just in case.

"A little change will do you good". As in a change of clothes. Our trip around the world has brought us to the Steiner School in Brighton in the UK, where Santa has been stripped of his traditional red suit in favor of a more palatable green one. Why you may ask? Because the red suit just might make the kiddies think of Coca-Cola which is a symbol of commercialism, and that is no way to raise little Marxists.

The children will be told a moral tale in lieu of the traditional Christmas tale, lest a non-religious person be offended. Instead of opening presents, they will crack open fake rocks that will reveal crystals. Fun stuff. When I was a kid, you feared getting coal in your stocking. Now you have to be happy with rocks.

So, Santa is a gluttonous, misogynistic, pedophile who has sold out to corporate interests. He also must hate the poor since he brings them fewer gifts, completely overlooks Jewish children and gives charcoal to the naughty. But thankfully, the do-gooders in this world have come to the rescue. When you go to the mall this year, Santa will be the green suit clad skinny man over in the corner saying ha, ha, ha.

Then again, that could be the carpet salesman.


Meet the new Eco-nezer Scrooges

In the name of scrimping and saving the planet, miserabilism about Xmas has gone mainstream and taken the moral high ground this year

Christmas is coming, and so are all the by-now-traditional attacks on the seasonal binge of spending, eating, drinking and general consuming. But this time it's different, thanks to the way that environmentalism has now become the default language of public debate. In the name of saving the planet, Christmas miserabilism has gone mainstream and taken the moral high ground this year.

It is a few years ago now since I started writing about the rising fashion for bashing Christmas, not as a religious festival but as a secular knees-up. Back then, however, the miserabilists tended to be on the margins. Their influence has gradually grown as they have taken on the cloak of environmentalism. Now many of the reports about the alleged risks that our `carbon-guzzling Christmas' poses to the environment come from major institutions, and they are always guaranteed to capture headlines.

There have always been grinches and grouses and stingy whingers who hate Christmas because of the expense, the waste and the fun that it generates. These people used to be called mean. Today they proudly call themselves green. And while Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge was a marginal figure of public scorn, those whom we might dub the new Eco-nezers are top of the tree this Christmas.

So instead of simply telling us about the virtues of scrimping and saving, the Christmas miserabilists now lecture us about scrimping and saving the planet. Their cry has been taken up in high places, in a democratic society where we know we can choose any shade of politics we like, just so long as it's green. In recent weeks the annual chorus of Christmas carols has seemed in danger of being drowned out by a cacophony of warnings about the need to buy less, eat and drink less, recycle more and turn more things off, along with long lists of worthy advice about how to `enjoy' a green and ethical holiday. All together now, to the tune of Merry Little Christmas: `Have yourself a very little Christmas now.'

Things have reached the point where the anti-Christmas list of indulgences about which we are supposed to feel guilty has now been extended to include the crime of eating cranberry sauce. According to reports of serious research conducted by sane scientists at the proper University of Manchester, investigating `the carbon footprint of turkey and trimmings', that traditional Christmas dinner sauce is `a major offender in terms of carbon dioxide emissions'. How long can it be before somebody calls upon the authorities to ban the foreign cranberry?

You, like me, might have ignorantly assumed that all Christmas trees were, by nature, green. But on closer study of the eco-advice this Christmas, I discover that the only truly `green' trees turn out to be either live ones which we `dedicate' as a gift to somebody but leave growing in the wild, or Christmas trees made out of recycled and reusable cardboard. As for giving actual presents, the advice is to avoid all of those techno-gadgets and games whose manufacturers have, according to the seasonal message from Greenpeace, `failed to reduce the toxic burden of their products', and instead give our children `sustainable' or better yet homemade presents, preferably wrapped in newspaper to reduce waste. Oh, and apparently some green advice columnists believe that the priceless gift of Al Gore's fun global warming diatribe, An Inconvenient Truth, would make `an ideal stocking filler' on Christmas morning.

Whatever the truth about the complexities of climate change, none of this simplistic sermonising about the need to cut our seasonal consumption will make any difference. Break down the scary `carbon-guzzling Christmas' headlines into family-sized bites, and the figures become so marginal as to be meaningless. Last Christmas, for example, the Local Government Association issued a loud warning about the CO2 produced by excess energy-burning at Christmas, supported by statistics which actually revealed that burning 200 old-style Christmas lights eight hours a day for an entire month would waste electricity worth all of. 2.40 pounds.

As for the headline attack on cranberry sauce as a `major offender' in carbon crime statistics, on closer inspection it appears that this humble berry was singled out for media attention in that research because it was almost the only ingredient of a typical UK Christmas dinner that they found clocking up the dreaded `food miles' by being imported in large quantities. It turned out that everything else, from the roast potatoes to even the turkey, already tends to be locally grown according to the green mantra (although obviously turkey farming is still treated as a cross between being a concentration camp guard and a child-poisoner in some quarters).

They may have dressed up their prejudices in the fashionable sackcloth of environmentalism, but it seems that what really motivates many of the new Green meanies is the same old snobbish contempt for the gift-wrapping, turkey-stuffing, fun-loving masses. One major report by a trendy green `think-and-do tank' openly sneers at the `frenzy of mass consumption' at Christmas time by plebs who will `sit in collective numbness in front of the telly', no doubt emitting CO2 from every orifice. It demands that families should stage their own panto instead, and perhaps give each other a gift of `green gym' membership, which `combines getting fit with action to improve the outdoor environment'. Now that sounds like my idea of fun.

The guilt-tripping of the masses over their Christmas excesses has also intensified as environmentalism has taken centre stage. Twenty years ago, Band Aid-style charitable appeals told us to remember to give to the less fortunate - the starving of Africa and the poor of the Third World - while we were enjoying our seasonal fun. `Do they know it's Christmas?' and all that. Today, however, green guilt-trippers go much further, insisting that we should not just give to charity but effectively give up celebrating at Christmas, since it is our fun that is to blame for the suffering of the poor in the first place. As one blogger has it, `Our twinkling Christmas lights are contributing to the deaths of people in places we have probably never heard of and will never see'. He goes on to dismiss any suggestion that he might be a party-pooper as `climate change denial in seasonal wrappings'. Climate change `denial' (seen as like Holocaust denial, only worse) and wasteful wrapping paper! What less ethical Christmas cocktail could there possibly be?

Before his conversion by the spirits, Dickens' Scrooge avowed that `every idiot' who celebrated Christmas `should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart'. Today's Eco-nezers might only add that the pudding should contain no imported berries or be boiled using fossil fuels, that the holly must be organic, and the body buried for tree compost. And they would be assured of a prime slot in the national media to do so.

A final fresh aspect to the green meanies' assault on Christmas bingeing has emerged with news of the global `credit crunch' in the financial markets, and the widely-expressed fears that everything from mortgages to credit cards may be harder for many people to obtain in the near future. There has been an underlying tone of barely-disguised `I-told-you-so!' glee in some of the discussion of these problems, as penny-pinching pundits come close to revelling in the prospect of discomfort for the `mass consumers' whom they so despise. Where Scrooge merely wanted to keep as much money as possible for himself, the Eco-nezers want to deny the pleasures of consuming to all.

And again, this miserabilism is justified in ethical talk about the need to tighten our belts for the good of the planet and the future - a sentiment now endorsed from the top down. As Gordon Brown warned just before becoming UK prime minister six months ago, under his regime people would have to `watch the carbon as well as the pennies'.

Discussion of a `war on Christmas' often focuses on the phoney war over the status of the Christian religion and its symbols (see Christmas is banned! Or is it?, by Munira Mirza). But the other `war on Christmas' that infuriates an old atheistic libertarian Marxist like me is the mean green attack on it as a secular celebration of the human spirit and of our society's material advance. For the miserabilist tendency on the left today, the seasonal message seems to have become `Don't eat, drink or be merry, or tomorrow the planet dies'.

The problem this reflects is rather bigger than simple Christmas party-pooping, though that is objectionable enough. The green meanies' war on Christmas captures the backward, anti-human, horizon-lowering, behaviour-policing spirit of the age. The big moralistic sermon we are being force-fed is no longer about how Jesus was born on Christmas day to save us. It is about how we need to save the planet from our sins, by restraining our passions and progress. And that is absolutely nothing to celebrate.


Santa putting children's information at risk, warn experts

Santa Claus could be breaking privacy laws in his collection and use of data about British children, experts have warned. Yuletide cheer-bringer Claus could be putting the personal data of millions of children at risk.

Data protection laws lay down strict conditions for the use of personal data and there is no evidence that Claus has an adequate compliance programme in place. Children across Britain who write letters to Claus with a list of gift requests are not told for how long that data is kept, or if it will be used for other purposes such as marketing by third parties. The Data Protection Act stipulates that data should not be kept for longer than necessary, which would mean 25 December, though Claus may argue that he needs to keep the letters for six years to use in any gift-related lawsuits.

"There is a stream of questions Santa has yet to answer," said William Malcolm, a data protection specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "Is this information used for anything other than present giving? Information passes out of the EU, so does Santa check the letters for unambiguous, specific and informed consent to this overseas transfer?"

OUT-LAW's attempts to put the questions to Claus were hindered by the lack of an office chimney. Eventually, the questions were put up a domestic chimney but no response was received by time of publication.

The Data Protection Act says that you must inform someone when you are collecting data about them, and tell them what the purpose of collection is. "What about the naughty/nice database?" said Malcolm. "Are children given notice that behavioural data is being collected about them throughout the year? And does it qualify as covert monitoring, which would breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights?"

People can make a subject access request of databases holding their personal information, but the database operator has 40 days in which to respond. Children are now too late, therefore, to find out before Christmas if they are on the naughty or nice section of the system.


The new atheists

In describing their atheism as illiberal, I do not mean to imply that the new atheists are closet totalitarians. On the contrary, all of them understand themselves to be contributing to the defense of freedom against its most potent enemies, at home and abroad. Yet the fact remains that the atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens is a brutally intolerant, proselytizing faith, out to rack up conversions. Consider, for example, the sloppiness displayed by all of the authors in discussing their political aims. Do they seek to defend the secular politics favored by the American Constitutional framers? Or do they have the much more radical goal of producing a secular society--a society in which the American people, as a whole and individually, have abandoned religion? The former is a liberal goal, the latter an illiberal one; and it is inexcusable that each book leaves readers guessing which objective its author favors.

Not that there aren't clues. Harris, for instance, seeks nothing less than to "demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity." To this end, he would have public schools "announce the death of God" to their students- -a development that would mark the end of the government's theological neutrality and inaugurate a time of outright antagonism toward the religious beliefs of citizens. Anticipating, moreover, that religious liberals might balk at such tactics, Harris asserts that "the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist" whose attachment to tolerance convinces too many in our society to restrain themselves from loudly proclaiming that "the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish." A similar ire fuels Dennett's and Dawkins's hatred of religious education, as well as Hitchens's wildly excessive denunciations of Mother Teresa. (Hitchens's charges, first lodged in his book The Missionary Position, are repeated in God is Not Great.) Convinced that, as Hitchens puts it in his subtitle, religion poisons everything, today's atheists feel perfectly justified in dispensing with such moral luxuries as tolerance and civility.

Indeed, the tone of today's atheist tracts is so unremittingly hostile that one wonders if their authors really mean it when they express the hope, as Dawkins does in a representative passage, that "religious readers who open [The God Delusion] will be atheists when they put it down." Exactly how will such conversions be accomplished? Rather than seeking common ground with believers as a prelude to posing skeptical questions, today's atheists prefer to skip right to the refutation. They view the patient back and forth of dialogue--the way of Socrates--as a waste of time.

It is with this enmity, this furious certainty, that our ideological atheists lapse most fully into illiberalism. Politically speaking, liberalism takes no position on theological questions. One can be a liberal and a believer (as were Martin Luther King Jr., Reinhold Niebuhr, and countless others in the American past and present) or a liberal and an unbeliever (as were Hook, Richard Rorty, and a significantly smaller number of Americans over the years). This is in part because liberalism is a philosophy of government, not a philosophy of man--or God. But it is also because modern liberalism derives, at its deepest level, from ancient liberalism--from the classical virtue of liberality, which meant generosity and openness. To be liberal in the classical sense is to accept intellectual variety--and the social complexity that goes with it--as the ineradicable condition of a free society.

It is to accept, in other words, that, although I may settle the question of God to my personal satisfaction, it is highly unlikely that all of my fellow citizens will settle it in the same way--that differences in life experience, social class, intelligence, and the capacity for introspection will invariably prevent a free community from reaching unanimity about the fundamental mysteries of human existence, including God. Liberal atheists accept this situation; ideological atheists do not. That, in the end, is what separates the atheism of Socrates from the atheism of the French Revolution.

Why does it matter that a handful of writers who refuse to accept this basic human reality have recently sold a lot of books? On one level, it obviously doesn't matter very much. The United States remains a very religious nation. While there are small communities of atheists, agnostics, and skeptics in every state, and substantial ones in a few--Washington state leads the country with 25 percent of its residents claiming to worship no God; North Dakota comes in last with 3 percent--there aren't nearly enough unbelievers to leave a significant mark on the nation's culture or politics as a whole.

Still, the rise of the new atheists is cause for concern--not among the targets of their anger, who can rest secure in the knowledge that the ranks of the religious will, here in America, dwarf the ranks of atheists for the foreseeable future; but rather among those for whom the defense of secular liberalism is a high political priority. Of course, many of these secular liberals are probably the same people who propelled Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens onto the best-seller lists by purchasing their books en masse--people who are worried about the dual threats to secular politics posed by militant Islam and the American religious right. These people are correct to be nervous about the future of secular liberalism, to perceive that it needs passionate, eloquent defenders. The problem is that the rhetoric of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens will undermine liberalism, not bolster it: Far from shoring up the secular political tradition, their arguments are likely to produce a country poised precariously between opposite forms of illiberalism.

The last thing America needs is a war of attrition between two mutually exclusive, absolute systems of belief. Yet this is precisely what the new atheists appear to crave. The task for the rest of us--committed to neither dogmatic faith nor dogmatic doubt--is to make certain that combatants on both sides of the theological divide fail to get their destructive way. And thereby to ensure that liberalism prevails.

More here

NYC: The incorrectness of cats

Across the city, delis and bodegas are a familiar and vital part of the streetscape, modest places where customers can pick up necessities, a container of milk, a can of soup, a loaf of bread. Amid the goods found in the stores, there is one thing that many owners and employees say they cannot do without: their cats. And it goes beyond cuddly companionship. These cats are workers, tireless and enthusiastic hunters of unwanted vermin, and they typically do a far better job than exterminators and poisons. When a bodega cat is on the prowl, workers say, rats and mice vanish.

That is the case at a narrow corner store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where a gray long-haired tabby named Halloween goes on regular patrols when she is not lounging on a plaid bed tucked behind dusty rows of Schweppes ginger ale and empty cardboard boxes. “In the morning she is lazy, it is her nap time,” said Urszula Jawor, 49, the deli’s manager, a Polish immigrant who smiled with motherly pride at Halloween, adding that the cat was named for the day she wandered in off the street and claimed the Bedford Avenue store as her home. “But in the afternoon she is busy,” Ms. Jawor said. “She spends hours stalking the mice and the rats.”

To store owners, the services of cats are indispensable in a city where the rodent problem is serious enough to be documented in a still popular two-minute video clip on YouTube from late February (youtube.com/watch?v=su0U37w2tws) of rats running amok in a KFC/Taco Bell in Greenwich Village. Store-dwelling cats are so common that there is a Web site, workingclasscats.com, dedicated to telling their tales. But as efficient as the cats may be, their presence in stores can lead to legal trouble. The city’s health code and state law forbid animals in places where food or beverages are sold for human consumption. Fines range from $300 for a first offense to $2,000 or higher for subsequent offenses. “Any animal around food presents a food contamination threat,” said Robert M. Corrigan, a rodentologist and research scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “And so that means anything from animal pieces and parts to hair and excrement could end up in food, and that alone, of course, is a violation of the health code.”

Mr. Corrigan did concede that some studies have shown that the smell of cats in an enclosed area will keep mice away. But he does not endorse cats as a form of pest control because, he explained, the bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and nematodes carried by rats may infect humans by secondary transfer through a cat. Still, many store owners keep cats despite the law, mainly because other options have failed and the fine for rodent feces is also $300. “It’s hard for bodega owners because they’re not supposed to have a cat, but they’re also not supposed to have rats,” said Jose Fernández, the president of the Bodega Association of the United States.

Luis Martinez, 42, has managed his brother’s grocery in East New York, Brooklyn, for two years. At first, despite weekly visits from an exterminator, the store’s inventory was ravaged constantly by nibbling vermin. “Every night I had to put the bread in the freezer,” he said, pointing at shelves filled with bread and hamburger buns. “I was losing too much inventory. The chips and the Lipton soups all had holes in them.” Then, last winter, a friend brought Mr. Martinez a marmalade kitten in need of a home. Mr. Martinez, who was skeptical of how one slinky kitten could fend off an army of hungry rats, set up a litter box in the back of the store, put down an old fleece jacket and named the kitten Junior. Within two weeks, Mr. Martinez said, “a miracle.” “Before you’d see giant rats running in off the streets into the store, but since Junior, no more,” he said.

Junior sometimes brings Mr. Martinez mouse carcasses as gifts, which he said bothers him less than the smell that permeates his store when the exterminator’s victims die and rot under a freezer. In October, a health inspector fined Mr. Martinez $300 and warned him that if Junior was still there by the time of the next inspection he would be fined $2,000. “He wants me to get rid of the cat, but the rats will take over if I do,” Mr. Martinez said. “I need the cat, and the cat needs a home.”

Because stores do not get advance notification of an inspection, Mr. Martinez is trying to keep Junior in his office as much as possible. Many bodega owners reason that a cat is less of a health threat than an army of nibbling rats. “If cats live in homes and apartments where people have food, a cat shouldn’t be a threat in a store if it’s well maintained,” Mr. Fernández said.

Some animal rescue groups, like the Spay and Neuter Intervention Project, support the legalization and regulation of store cats so that owners would be required to provide basic veterinary care and to spay or neuter their animals.

At a corner store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Andre Duran, one of the owners, said he had kept a cat for six years and had never been fined. “That’s Oreo,” he said, as he lifted a tiny black cat with white paws into his arms and carried her like a football. “No one’s ever complained about cat hair in their sandwiches, and if she weren’t here, you bet there’d be bigger problems than hair.” As a line formed at Mr. Duran’s cash register and he excused himself to take orders, Oreo’s ears perked up and she slunk away toward the back of the store. She was, perhaps, in pursuit of something.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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