On The Whole, I’d Prefer ‘Happy Holidays’ (Updated)

bilde.jpgMany people get exercised about the reluctance of retailers and politicians to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Chanukah” of late, and cringe when they hear “Happy Holidays” instead. Critics see this as a secular erosion of the religious nature of the holiday, and some of the more militant advocates refer to it as the Christmas War. I don’t find the secular greeting offensive, but I do appreciate the acknowledgment of Christmas when it occurs.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has decided to up the ante, however, in his choice of imagery for his official Christmas cards:

Gov. Phil Bredesen has given an unusual twist to his family’s Christmas card: He is marking a Christian holiday with a card depicting a Muslim girl.
The card’s cover is a print of a painting by the governor of a young woman he met when he toured Afghanistan in March.
“May the peace and joy of this Christmas season be with you and your loved ones throughout the coming year,” the card reads.
“While it may seem odd to put a portrait of a young Muslim woman on a Christmas card, this Season reminds us that He loves His children most of all,” Bredesen stated on the back of the card.

If Bredesen thought this would mollify those who want more religion in their Christmas, he’s going to be sorely disappointed. Christians want religion in their holiday, all right — but they prefer it to be Christianity. We know God loves all his children, but Christianity has plenty of its own imagery for the holiday; we hardly need to borrow from Muslims for holiday greetings, especially these days.
And it hardly pacified the Muslims, either. I don’t think they’ll appreciate the Governor’s concluding thought that Christmas should bring peace to Afghanistan, for one thing. The image itself will prove troubling for devout Muslims as well, which the spokesman for the Nashville Islamic center points out. The woman’s face is uncovered and her hair shows, which might look beatific to Bredesen but offends conservative Muslims.
It’s hard to understand what Bredesen was thinking with this choice, except for mindless political correctness. The message from Tennessee this holiday appears to be, “Have Yourself A Dhimmi Little Christmas.” I’ll pass. (via CQ reader Jim Brown in TN)
UPDATE: I forgot to include a link to Power Line, who’s also linking to this. Commenters are making the argument that Bredesen is emphasizing the effort that Christians should make to love their enemies, but since when do we define Christianity through those who oppose it? I don’t recall the use of Communist imagery for Christmas cards during the Cold War, for instance, especially in 1981 when Bulgaria’s secret police tried to assassinate John Paul II. I’d prefer that Christmas references to religion focus on the birth of Christ and Christianity, and I don’t think that’s asking too much; I’d expect Chanukah references to focus on Judaism, not Christianity or Islam in the same measure. If that’s too much to ask, then use Frosty the Snowman.
I should note that Bredesen is a rather good amateur artist; he painted this himself.
UPDATE II: Perhaps Bredesen will reciprocate by using imagery of Jesus for Ramadan next year. Any bets on that?
UPDATE III: A couple of commenters note the striking similarities between Bredesen’s portrait and National Geographic’s Afghan Girl from 1985. The similarity is rather striking, especially in the facial expression and the unusual eye color — one of the keys they used to find her twenty years later.

Starting The Normalization Of Polygamy

Quite a while back (two years ago), I wrote that the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v Texas would open a Pandora’s box about all sorts of cultural norms currently supported by statute throughout the United States. At the time, Jonathan Turley had written about the impending sentencing of Tom Green for polygamy, and opposed it on the basis of personal choice. I wrote:

I don’t see anything particularly wrong with gay marriage, as long as a majority of voters approve it. I also think that the Texas sodomy laws were about as stupid as you could have found in any penal code. … However, the Court used a sledgehammer when a flyswatter would have prevailed, and the consequences of their decision has led — logically — to the appeal of all anti-polygamy statutes. If in fact the Court applies the same thinking to polygamy as it did to the sodomy statutes, then they have no choice but to free Green and declare all anti-polygamy statutes null and void.
Perhaps that is the Libertarian stance. Maybe that’s for the public good, although I highly doubt it. But the court once again has set itself in a position where its own precedent requires it to legislate, a usurpation of their Constitutional authority just as much as Lawrence was.
Not everything that transpires between consenting adults is legal or should be legal, let alone given Constitutional protection. But that’s where the SCOTUS has left us. They should take the opportunity to reverse their precedent and acknowledge the error they made in Lawrence, before Constitutionally guaranteed prostitution and adult incest come next.

Today, we see the same argument, this time in a report on the efforts of polygamists to rehabilitate themselves in the media by the Washington Post. Their supporters use Lawrence much as Justice Scalia predicted in his dissent:

Valerie and others among the estimated 40,000 men, women and children in polygamous communities are part of a new movement to decriminalize bigamy. Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live “in freedom,” according to Anne Wilde, director of community relations for Principle Voices, a pro-polygamy group based in Salt Lake. …
In their quest to decriminalize bigamy, practitioners have had help from unlikely quarters. HBO’s series “Big Love,” about a Viagra-popping man with three wives, three sets of bills, three sets of chores and three sets of kids, marked a watershed because of its sympathetic portrayal of polygamists. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which voided laws criminalizing sodomy, also aided polygamy’s cause because it implied that the court disapproved of laws that reach into the bedroom.
Since then, liberal legal scholars, generally no friend of the polygamists’ conservative-leaning politics, have championed decriminalization. One of them is Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who has written two op-eds for USA Today calling for the legalization of bigamy — and same-sex marriage.

Scalia predicted legal assaults on bans against a whole range of sexual behavior as a result of the decision, but primarily polygamy. It seems from the description in this article that the local authorities may have read the writing on the wall from Lawrence and now decline to pursue cases against polygamists. The sheriff featured in the article has adopted what he calls a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that sounds very familiar indeed.
Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, said he would have voted to repeal the “silly” law overturned by Lawrence, and I agree. That’s how it should have been handled, and the Supreme Court should have refused to impose a Constitutional standard in overturning it. They brought a sledgehammer where a scalpel should have been employed, and they established a standard of privacy that will undermine a host of well-established public policies, unless they repudiate Lawrence at some later date. They also signalled law enforcememt agencies that they cannot rely on any long-term stability in the law, undermining the law before they can even address it.
This again demonstrates the damage the court can do when it strays from its role of interpreting the Constitution as written, rather than as how they would like it to be.

Maybe It’s A Protest Against Halal?

The descent of modern art continues in Cornwall, where a dead pig and a naked woman received government funding for an exhibition in Newlyn. Kira O’Reilly dances with an actual dead pig on stage, and British taxpayers get to foot the bill (caution: link not work safe):

After pickled sheep, unmade beds and painting with elephant dung, some questioned where modern art could go next.
Kira O’Reilly will provide her own answer today by spending four hours naked, hugging a dead pig – at the taxpayer’s expense.
The controversial Irish performance artist will invite one person at a time to watch her sit in a specially-constructed set and perform a ‘crushing slow dance’ with the carcass in her arms.
She claims the bizarre exhibition is an attempt to ‘identify’ with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show.

She feels the need to “meld into [the pig’s] warm flesh, my blood and her blood,” which is why she cuts the pig during the performance. I think it’s safe to say that Kira O’Reilly desperately needs a date, but potential suitors may want to ask her to shower first — and to keep the knives locked up.
PETA is organizing protests against the show, but it will only be performed once in any case. The pig has a prior engagement at a luau.
Does anyone wonder why conservatives see government funding of the arts as a joke? The decision makers have no sense of judgement or artistic vision, but instead have become the carnival barkers of their age. They care nothing for art but instead fund exhibits strictly for their shock value. Why should governments fund geek shows? Artists should have their freedom, but they should get their patronage from their own work and not from government handouts.

There May Be Crossover Between The Two

Zogby International has published another poll in which Americans prove they watch way too much television. The worst example comes on the difference between knowing the members of the Supreme Court and knowing the members of Snow White’s diminutive court:

Three quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White’s seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court Justices, according to a poll on pop culture released on Monday.
According to the poll by Zogby International, commissioned by the makers of a new online game on pop culture called “Gold Rush,” 57 percent of Americans could identify J.K. Rowling’s fictional boy wizard as Harry Potter, while only 50 percent could name the British prime minister, Tony Blair. …
Respondents were far more familiar with the Three Stooges — Larry, Curly and Moe — than the three branches of the U.S. government — judicial, executive and legislative. Seventy-four percent identified the former, 42 percent the latter.

Well, okay, but these are trick questions. After all, we’re pretty sure that Grumpy (David Souter) and Sleepy (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) sit on the Supreme Court. The American government can certainly be described as stooges, too, but even we admit that three is just too few. We think that federal bureaucrats and politicians might number more like 15 million, and all of them unfortunately are Larry.

Adding Insanity To Insult

Mel Gibson made an ass out of himself this weekend, first by driving while drunk, and then by reportedly spewing anti-Semitic slurs while police officers took him into custody. As he said in his apology, Gibson’s remarks were despicable, and regardless of his state of sobriety, he richly deserves his embarrassment for those actions and remarks.
Some have said that his controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, should be re-evaluated in light of Gibson’s alleged latent anti-Semitism. Of course, people are free to do so, although people didn’t appear to be shy in reviewing the film on those terms during its release over two years ago. (My review can be found here.) Gibson invited those reconsidered evaluations with his remarks, as well as speculation on the motivation behind his upcoming work on the Holocaust.
However, some people just cannot abide the fact that even stupid people have the right to free speech. Abraham Foxman, the director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, wants the police to open a criminal probe into Gibson’s stupid remarks:

Gibson’s reported criticism of Jews, contained in a leaked police report detailing his arrest early on Friday morning, included the phrase: “F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
He has since apologised for his actions, saying they were “despicable”, but community Jewish leaders called for Gibson to be ostracised from Hollywood, where the A-list actor is considered an industry powerbroker.
Calling for a criminal investigation into the Oscar-winning actor and director’s remarks, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the US Jewish Anti-Defamation League, said: “We believe there should be consequences to bigots and bigotry.”

What crime does Foxman claim Gibson violated with these remarks? Americans have the right to say some pretty stupid things. Hell, the blogosphere proves that almost every day! We also can say some hateful things about our fellow man, and it’s still not a crime.
Perhaps some might want the government to police our speech and our thoughts in order to ensure that no offensive speech can occur. Many have already tried this; Russ Feingold and John McCain have succeeded in no small measure, and many colleges and universities have enacted speech codes. However, that is a blade that cuts both ways, and those who complain about the speech of others should take care that their speech is not the next target for a powerful lobby to silence.
Foxman had our support while he expressed outrage and disgust at Gibson’s drunken rant. However, he loses it when he advocates criminal penalties for merely offering an opinion. Gibson’s remarks, as reported, were hateful and obnoxious — but Foxman’s are truly dangerous.

Polygamy Is Rather Taxing

A band of polygamists face prosecution from the state of Utah not for their unusual marital arrangements but because they refuse to pay property taxes. In a dispute that resulted from the collapse of their commune, the individual members of the LDS separatists have refused to pay the taxes due and may lose their homes. They have responded by fortifying defenses around the houses and community:

Thousands of polygamists are engaged in a highly unusual standoff here over property taxes that could ultimately cost them their houses or thrust them into a mainstream America they fear and despise.
In one corner is a group of 8,000 or so adherents of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormon Church that had long paid the property taxes of its members, sometimes even rolling a wheelbarrow through meetings to collect the needed cash. …
The church hierarchy is in chaos. Its former leader is on the run, facing criminal charges of arranging sex between a minor and an adult in a polygamous marriage, leaving the old tax-collection system in shambles. Now the property taxes for hundreds of houses — around $1.3 million — are overdue and mounting.

This is not the first time in the spotlight for this group. Their prophet, Warren Jeffs, took off with a lot of the group’s money last year. He has continued to collect tithes from the people in the FLDS community in Hildale while fleeing prosecution for arranging marriages between underage girls and older members of the sect. That money could be used to pay the back taxes, but the Prophet uses it to pad his fugitive lifestyle instead.
In that sense, the entire community could be prosecuting for aiding and abetting a fugitive, but the payments get handled by cash and are difficult to trace. Jeff’s brother Seth got caught muling the tithes and special assessments that the Prophet has demanded. He now faces an indictment for concealment (hiding his brother).
This could turn out very badly, and authorities will have to proceed with caution. Fringe groups such as the FLDS often stockpile weapons, both to keep their own people in line and to hold off state law enforcement if necessary. A measure of their ruthlessness can be found in their abandonment of adolescent boys in large cities, attempting to whittle down the competition for the young girls of the group. So far, no one has been charged with these crimes, but it shows that they have little regard for law or for humanity in their zeal to promote their lifestyle. If it comes down to a shooting war, they wouldn’t mind sacrificing a few of those same boys if it meant buying enough time to escape. And if Utah actually tries to evict them without an overwhelming presence of the law, they might just try it.
By the way, the FLDS and Hildale serve as an inspiration for HBO’s new series, Big Love. It’s not a representation of this specific group, but it is an intriguing dramatization of the same components of the issue. I’d recommend it to viewers; it does not in any way glamourize polygamy. In fact, it makes it look like one gigantic pain in the rear end even to those who profess to believe in it. Bill Paxton does an excellent job in the lead role, but Harry Dean Stanton is nothing short of bone-chilling in his portrayal of the group’s prophet.

No Wonder They’re So Bummed Out

Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff notes an essay by Phillip Longman in the magazine Foreign Policy that predicts a conservative evolution in the West, thanks to birth rates that decline more the farther one moves to the left of the political spectrum. Longman forecasts that if the population in the West declines dramatically, the remainder will adopt an old-fashioned cultural model of patriarchy as conservatives reproduce at higher rates:

With the number of human beings having increased more than six-fold in the past 200 years, the modern mind simply assumes that men and women, no matter how estranged, will always breed enough children to grow the population—at least until plague or starvation sets in. It is an assumption that not only conforms to our long experience of a world growing ever more crowded, but which also enjoys the endorsement of such influential thinkers as Thomas Malthus and his many modern acolytes.
Yet, for more than a generation now, well-fed, healthy, peaceful populations around the world have been producing too few children to avoid population decline. That is true even though dramatic improvements in infant and child mortality mean that far fewer children are needed today (only about 2.1 per woman in modern societies) to avoid population loss. Birthrates are falling far below replacement levels in one country after the next—from China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, to Canada, the Caribbean, all of Europe, Russia, and even parts of the Middle East. …
Declining birthrates also change national temperament. In the United States, for example, the percentage of women born in the late 1930s who remained childless was near 10 percent. By comparison, nearly 20 percent of women born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives without having had children. The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, will leave no genetic legacy. Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the next generation compare with that of their parents.

This matches to the theory espoused by James Taranto at OpinionJournal about the political effect of abortion. In short, he postulates that the mothers who abort their children will trend significantly towards the left politically, and they will leave a shrinking legacy on which to pass their political views. The same effect occurs, Longman argues, by the willful or circumstantial refusal to procreate that apparently occurs more frequently with liberals. Longman also notes that in the US, the states that supported George Bush have a 12% higher fertility rate than those that supported John Kerry.
The article is fascinating, but it does also recall an earlier survey that showed conservatives as happier than liberals. Pew Research reported that 45% of all Republicans described themselves as happy, while only 30% of Democrats did so, and that these results have been consistent since 1972. Is it possible that the reason why conservatives are happier is because they’re procreating more than liberals? If so, it would be a rather delicious irony.

An American Original Leaves Us Laughing

Richard Pryor died today at 65, after suffering from long bouts of multiple sclerosis, heart disease, drug abuse, and what appeared to be a decades-long death wish. Pryor overcame the pain and illness of his life to change an entire entertainment form — stand-up comedy — from a series of jokes and witty third-party observations to a review of his life and his pain that seemed almost Freudian at times, even while making us cry with laughter.
Pryor started off trying to be the next Bill Cosby — another American original — but Pryor soon discovered that he could not spend his life ignoring his own viewpoint. While I would hardly claim to agree with much of what Pryor said and did in his life, he never quailed at talking about his failures and making them part of his always-hilarious act. His brutal honesty towards his own shortcomings made his pointed barbs at others around him easier to take and to get a laugh. He inspired two generations of comedians and helped pioneer stand-up into an art form.
Pryor also made a number of films, with varying success. He played serious roles such as the piano player in “Lady Sings The Blues”, but mostly stuck with comedies. The one he should have had but wound up losing was Sheriff Black Bart in “Blazing Saddles”, a role that the late Cleavon Little made into a classic. Pryor wrote the script along with Mel Brooks, but apparently the studio felt that Pryor brought too much controversy to the screen for the movie. Instead, Pryor made classic comedies with Gene Wilder such as “Silver Streak” and with Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx in “Harlem Nights”. He even appeared with Jackie Gleason in the extremely disappointing “The Toy”, a shame given the talent the two comedic titans shared between them.
Later, as Pryor left the pain and the abuse behind him, life dealt him one last blow in the form of multiple sclerosis. Typically, he made it part of his act, refusing to allow the disease to keep him off the stage. Eventually, however, Pryor had to retire from the work he loved and transformed, and we were the poorer for it. Today, the world is poorer for his leaving it — but we will have the work he left behind.
Rest in peace, Mr. Pryor, and thank you.
UPDATE: I should have known that Roger Simon would have had an anecdote or two to add.

Politically Correct Christmas Carols

Okay, I had planned on mostly staying out of the Christmas Wars this season, a madness where “Happy Holidays” has now reached the status of a war cry. However, while the First Mate and I went out for our first whack at Christmas shopping, we stopped for lunch at Applebee’s. They had a music channel on that rotated through various holiday songs, mostly pleasant if forgettable pop covers of the classic carols.
One, however, couldn’t be forgotten if we tried. Right in the middle of the last chorus of the song, the singer paused and added “Happy Kwanzaa” in the pause.
The song? Incredibly, it was “The Christmas Song” — you know, the one that starts, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” I don’t know the artist who provided this cover, but the irony and the stupidity made me laugh out loud, while the FM’s jaw dropped, aghast. Here’s the chorus:
And so I’m offering you a simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Though it’s been said many times many ways
Merry Christmas …
Happy Kwanzaa …
Merry Christmas … to you.

What’s next? “The Little Drummer Boy” playing his drums for Caeser Augustus? Give me a break. The song itself refers to Santa being on his way — hardly a reference to Kwanzaa. Can we just sing Christmas carols, even these secular ones, for what they are? Especially one specifically named for the holiday?
UPDATE: CQ reader Dan notes that the Christmas carol madness continues, although along an entirely different front:

It’s pretty bad. Especially considering at my ‘conservative’ christian college, (Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington) the Whitworth Choir is required to sing, “God rest ye merry *people*.”
Never mind tradition. We don’t wanna rankle people with a *sexist* Christmas Carol. What’s next?
– “Frosty the Snowperson?”
– “I’m dreaming of a multicultural Christmas?”
– “Rudolph the differently-abled Reindeer-American?”
– ’Jolly’ Mature Morally-Gifted Nicholas?”

Dreaming of a multicultural holiday, Dan. Back to the Gloria Steinem Re-education Camp for you! (And wasn’t it “Rudolph the Recovering-Alcoholic Reindeer”?) Seriously, Dan, thanks for the laughs and hang in there.

Halloween Continues At Columbia

It sounds like the natural progression from the toga parties popularized by Animal House, with more than a hint of 21st-century libertinism. The Ivy-League fad of “naked parties” has spread to Columbia University, despite having restrictive policies regarding sexual behavior on campus. Parents sending their children to this very expensive school may not find the cost savings on clothing all that comforting:

“Compadres,” the e-mail states, “join us in refusing to comply with a culture that tells us to hide our body, to be ashamed of its scents, secretions, curves, and hair, to conceal those parts that have been dealt sexual connotations. We’re gonna f– this bondage we call clothing and party like the savages we really are.”
Following in the footsteps of their exhibitionist peers at Brown and Yale, Columbia undergraduates are staging parties with one basic ground rule – all guests must part with their clothes upon arrival. The invitation circulating around Morningside Heights bans three additional items: cameras, masks, and “spikey things.”
“Join us for a night of champagne, martinis, witchcraft, psychedelia, syncopated rhythms, thin bass lines, and body paint,” reads the invitation, which was obtained by The New York Sun.

The first reaction for many will be Why couldn’t I go to college now, instead of two/three/four decades ago? However, the problems associated with the naked parties are not nearly as humorous as one would imagine. Messages sent by showing up naked at a party can get confused with sexual willingness, and especially so when “champagne, martinis, [and] psychedelia” get involved. The latter appears to be a clear reference to illegal drug use, and all of it — including the shedding of clothes — tears down the natural inhibitions against casual sexual contact that not only breeds bitter misunderstandings, but also STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
This does not sound like an Ivy League-level proposition. If this represents the kind of decision-making that these schools help form, then perhaps parents and employers alike should rethink the emphasis they place on diplomas from these universities.
On the other hand, some Columbia students claim they have a defense against the notion that the naked parties serve only to inflame teenage and early-twenties lust. “By and large,” writes Zachary Bendliner, the editor of the campus newspaper Blue and White, “[Columbia students] aren’t terribly attractive.” In a potential corroboration of this theory, the guiding spirit behind Columbia’s shedding of inhibitions and Ralph Lauren, fourth-year Comparative Lit major Carla Bloomberg, asked in an e-mail to the Sun, “Why is body hair only acceptable on males?”
So perhaps these parties serve only as extensions of Halloween parties, designed to scare people into celibacy. It seems to me that Catholic schools can do that better than any place else, and they don’t charge $30K per semester to do so, nor do their administrations tolerate advertised orgies. One has to wonder about the level of education delivered at Columbia when the students have this much time on their hands to plan out elaborate naked parties with this much preparation. Carla and her friends, at best, seem to have too much time on their hands at midterm for even a junior college, let alone a prestigious institution like Columbia.