Saturday, December 10, 2005


It's not exactly the Island of Misfit Toys, but in a back room at the Julius Rosso Nursery & Garden Center in Georgetown sit numerous victims of the cultural war over Christmas trees. "Here are some angels with trumpets," said Bobbi Rosso, sifting through Christmas ornaments stowed in boxes.

Also forgotten in the back room at Rosso's nursery: boxes of snowman ornaments. Those ornaments, though, are victims of fashion. The tastes of Rosso's customers have turned from kitsch to the glamorous luxurious gold balls and crystal icicle ornaments.

The angel issue confounds Rosso. "Look at these -- how can anyone object to these?" she said, pulling a plump cherubic face from yet another box. "I'm not for all this controversy about Christmas. I'm Italian and Irish Roman Catholic. I believe in the birth of Christ," she said. "To me, it's tantamount to taking the birthday out of cake. Or to take the baseball out of ... er ... bat."

Last Wednesday, Rosso and four of her helpers including Helen Schafer went to the Plaza 600 office building at Sixth Avenue and Stewart Street. The Vance Corp., which manages the building, hadn't specifically asked that there be no angels. There were golden grapes, golden acorns and white lights on the 12-foot artificial tree. "No angels here," Rosso said from atop a stepladder.

More here


The huge anti-smoking establishment remains mostly ineffective at getting young people to avoid smoking and getting current smokers to quit. Much work remains. The question is, though: How much work?

Less than a decade ago, we would have been thrilled if Big Tobacco acknowledged that smoking was dangerous and addictive or gave in to demands to be more honest about the wide range of negative health consequences of smoking. If only they ran ads telling people that there are no safe cigarettes and that the safest thing to do is to quit, we fantasized.

But they are doing all this now -- and the question staring the anti-smoking community in the face is: Short of banning cigarettes, what is your endgame? Where do we go from here? Sure, there are major and important skirmishes to be fought, but at this point haven't we gotten a great deal of what we've been asking for from Big Tobacco? What other major steps could we ask for in a free society?

If there is no clear goal, defined by urgent public health imperatives, what is it that continues to drive the anti-smoking movement? The truth is that ideology and politics have become dominant; public health has taken a back seat. Misguided campaigns undermine the original and necessary goals of the movement, putting the credibility of the underlying mission at risk.

Similar Zealotry Among the Food Police

And now we see the phenomenon of redoubled effort without a clear aim happening again, in the food wars.

Obesity is a real public health threat in this country. However, some activists have chosen to blame fast food restaurants for poor choices made by too many Americans -- as if Burger King and McDonald's going out of business today would mean obese Americans easily getting back into shape and eating healthy, balanced diets. To plaintiffs' lawyers, fast food has become the next Big Tobacco. Lawsuits against Big Food are everywhere. And activist groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have been demanding more nutrition information, right on the menu boards. To their credit, McDonald's is now rolling out plans to put such information right on the wrapper -- so you can't miss it. But are the food police happy? No, as Dr. Elizabeth Whelan points out in her op-ed in today's Washington Times.

There is a lesson to be learned here, whether from the tobacco control community's addiction to a game without an endgame or the food police's insatiable hunger for more government intervention in the private sector. When your objectives are met, you should ask whether it's time to refocus your efforts -- or whether you are being driven ever forward by some more cynical motivation: a non-public-health agenda, driven by an underlying anticapitalist ideology.

Sometimes, the public health arena is a good venue for that ideology, which can help rein in bad actors. But when a public health mission has been accomplished and activists keep on fighting big bad evil industry, the activists reveal themselves as rabble-rousers, abusing the public's good will toward the public health community.



Christmas. There are two main definitions in the Encarta World Dictionary that define the holiday. The first definition identifies Christmas as the annual holiday celebrated by Christians on Dec. 25 that honors the birth of Jesus Christ. The other definition takes the religion out of it and describes Christmas as a secular holiday where friends and families come together to exchange gifts.

Around this time last year, Plano ISD used the latter definition of Christmas. This action stemmed from an incident where a student attempted to distribute candy cane-shaped pens during a Christmas party. The district would not allow that, and several families filed a federal lawsuit, saying Plano schools practiced religious censorship and impeded on the children's right to free speech. Since then, however, PISD was ordered by a judge to allow children to hand out items with religious references as long as the items did not cause a disruption.

Now here is an issue. The world we live in continues to grow smaller and smaller with the technology that has been created, so all people are forced to become more accepting and tolerant of views different from their own. If people look around their neighborhood, work areas or schools, they will see that they have American neighbors, Arab neighbors, Asian neighbors and European neighbors. Those friends, co-workers or classmates could be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, or they could have no religious affiliation at all.

Nevertheless, when December comes around, everyone is given a Christmas break. Well, actually ... PISD is so caught up in political correctness that Christmas break no longer goes by that name, but by "winter break" instead. It doesn't matter whether students or faculty members are Christian; the holiday break shows no bias. However, I am sure there are people out there who disagree with the whole notion of the holiday. (Yet not one of them complains when they are given the break. Go figure.)

Taking Christ out of Christmas is like taking chocolate chips out of chocolate chip cookies. What PISD attempted to do was not justified. To me, it is appalling that a school district in such a progressive country and city tries to censor a holiday that has been celebrated since Christ's death. As I mentioned before, PISD had become so adamant about being politically correct so as to not offend any religion that it has offended the very religion that this whole country was founded upon.

And if one would like to literally translate the meaning of Christmas, here is the breakdown. The word can be broken down into two parts: "Christ" - a Greek word for the man whom the entire holiday is celebrated for, and "-mas" - a suffix that comes from the ancient Greek word "mass," which is regularly performed in both Catholic and Protestant churches. So technically, there is no way that anyone can change the definition of Christmas to make it a more secular holiday.


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