Happy Holidays Everyone… That’s Right, I Said HAPPY HOLIDAYS

(I’ll keep this one short and light, I promise.  And there’s a joke at the end.)

I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy but… When someone says to me “Happy Holidays”, I don’t assume they are trying to insult my faith.  I don’t think they are pushing some kind of liberal atheist agenda.  I don’t believe they are trying to tear down the fabric of western society.  I just think it’s a friendly greeting, and they are just trying to be nice.

By the same token…

I may be crazy but… When someone says to me “Merry Christmas”, I don’t believe they are trying to push their right-wing Christian agenda on me.  I don’t think they are intolerant of other faiths, or are xenophobic, or that they hate the Jews.   I just think it’s a friendly greeting, and they are just trying to be nice.

On the other hand…

When someone says to me “Seasons Greetings”, I think of this little cartoon I saw where these little bottles of garlic, parsley, and oregano were all saying “hi” to each other.  And that makes me smile.

Merry Xmas Everyone… Yes, that’s right, I said XMAS

For all my dear Christian friends who have made an annaul tradition of getting bent this time of year about the use of the term “X-mas”, please kindly consider the following:

1.  X- (the greek letter Chi) has been used in English as an accepted abbreviation for Christ for over 500 years.  Chi (“X” to us) is the first letter of “Christ” as spelled in the original Greek.  Just for fun, go to Google translate or Babelfish, and try translating “Christ” into Greek.  As a Christian, you should recognize the Chi-rho (Xp) symbol, one of the earliest and oldest symbols of Christianity.  Yes, I know crosses and Jesus-fish are all the rage now, but back in the day the Chi-rho was THE symbol for followers of Christ.  That the “X-” has lost acceptance as an abbreviation for Christ is a reflection of a modern educational system with no focus on classical language, much moreso than any real or imagined atheist conspiracy to replace Jesus with algebra.

2.  December 25th is the birthday of a great many deities, however Jesus Christ was not originally one of them.  That we celebrate his birth on december 25th is a somewhat arbitrary choice made by the early Roman church, as they established the calendar of new Christian holy days.  They could have just as easily chosen May Day or Groundhog’s Day.  (Yes, really, Groundhog’s Day.)  While we don’t actually know the date of His birth, we do know with some certainty that it is very unlikely it was in December.  (Or May, or February, for that matter.)  So the real question should be, not who’s trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but rather who put Christ into Christmas in the first place.  (Believe me, that’s a much more interesting question.)

3.  Almost all of the traditions of Chrismas are older than Christ.  There were decorated trees, and gift-giving, and decorations, and parties, and holly, and mistletoe, and yule logs, and wreaths, and carolling, and probably eggnog, all long before Jesus Christ was born.  Putting Christ into Christmas really didn’t change it all that much.  Just the name really, and it gave us some new songs to sing.  I suspect taking him out of it wouldn’t really change it that much either.  These old traditions, with or without their Christian overlay, are important – they are our connection with our past.  If we don’t know where they came from, if we don’t understand our own traditions, they are no longer meaningful to us.  They become nothing more than pointless, mindless ritual.

4.  A significant number of Christans to this day do not celebrate Christmas.  Certainly no Christians prior to the Roman Emperor Constantine celebrated Christ’s birthday, on December 25th or any other day.  The pilgrims who came here, nearly died, and in the process invented Thanksgiving, did not celebrate Christmas.  Today our modern view of the Christmas tradition is more shaped by Dickens and Coca-Cola than by anything from the Bible.  The New Testament tells a great deal about the activities of the early apostles, and the early (pre-Roman) churches they served, in the years and decades following the death of Christ.  Missing from the scripture is any mention of any remembrance or celebration of the birth of Christ.  From a dogmatic point of view, the birth, aside from being to a virgin, is nearly inconsequential. It is the death and ressurection of Christ that is the central tenant upon which Christainity is founded.  (This is why a magic bunny hides eggs for the kiddies on Easter.)

5.  Two out of three people on the planet are not Christian.  Nearly half of these non-Christians are Muslim, the other half are mostly Hindu or Buddhist.  None of them care what you do with the “X” in Christmas.  This great atheist conspiracy you are concerned about, well the number of atheists in the world is amazingly tiny, and most of them don’t care about your “X” either.  The ones that do care, they ONLY care in the context of where a government agency is involved in the establishment of religion.  You need to understand this – Using government resources to establish religious belief is forbidden by the most holy of their sacred texts, which they call the First Admendment.  Aside from that, what you do as a private citizen, or as a business, or as an organization, with respect to Christmas, honestly they don’t give a fuck.  In any case, you will NEVER hear a true atheist saying “Merry Xmas”.  Their traditional greeting is “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”.  NOW LISTEN CAREFULLY:  Just because someone says “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” does NOT automatically mean they are an atheist.  More than likely it means they are trying to be friendly and inclusive to the two thirds of people on the planet who are not Christians. Despite appearances to the contrary, being Christian does not prohibit one from being friendly and inclusive.


Now…  For all my dear non-Christian friends out there, who have to put up with this nonsense every year:  Sorry, and Happy Holidays!

One Nation Indivisible

Monday is Memorial Day, the day we honor the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. This holiday began as a remembrance of the soldiers lost in the Civil War, and has since expanded to honor those who paid the ultimate price in the subsequent wars, and simultaneously devolved into a nationwide barbecue celebrating the coming of summer.

It is interesting the aspects of today’s culture that have their roots in the Civil War. One of these is the Pledge of Allegiance. A great deal is made from time to time about the phrase “under God” in the pledge, but what many people don’t know is that the phrase “under God” was a much later addition to the pledge that significantly subverts it’s original and intended meaning.

The key phrase in the pledge, as originally written, was “one nation indivisible”. The pledge was created as a response to the Civil War. It was meant to be a promise that we are, and will forever be, a unified nation. That we would never again fracture or splinter, that we would never again take up arms against our own. The pledge was meant to be a solemn vow of unity that fully transends the hollow “under God” alteration brought on by Eisenhower-era anti-communist hysteria.

It is sad that this original message has been lost. As a country we have become more divisive than ever. We could use the occasional subtle reminder that we are meant to be “one nation indivisible”, that we have all pledged ourselves to the same thing. Those who are so caught up in the polarization between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, red state versus blue state, they would do well to take a moment to remember the original purpose and meaning behind Memorial Day, and our Pledge of Allegiance.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands,
one nation indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.

Recollections of Easter (The Easter Egg Hunt)

This is a paraphrased recollection of an actual conversation I had with my mother when I was about four or five…

Me: What’s an easter egg hunt?

Mom: We take easter eggs and hide them all over the yard, and you try to find them.

Me: But I don’t like eggs.

Mom: These are easter eggs.

Me: What’s an easter egg?

Mom: It’s like a regular egg, but they come in lots of pretty colors.

Me: So what do I get if I find them?

Mom: You get the eggs.

Me: Can I eat them?

Mom: Can if you want to.

Me: Do they taste different?

Mom: No, they taste like regular eggs.

Me: But I don’t like eggs.


Me: You sure they’re not candy eggs or something?

Mom: No, their regular eggs.

Me: Can I eat them scrambled?

Mom: No, they’re hard-boiled

Me: What’s that?

Mom: They’re cooked in the shell in boiling water.

Me: Does that make them taste different?

Mom: Yes.

Me: Would I like them?

Mom: I don’t know, have you ever had a hard-boiled egg?

Me: I don’t think so.

Mom: Would you like to try one?

Me: Yes.

(we pause here for a few minutes as mom makes me a hard-boiled egg, and shows me how to peel and eat it.)

Mom: Well, what do you think?

Me: Mmm, not sure. (I take another bite)


Me: I don’t like it.

Mom: What don’t you like about it?

Me: The taste.

Mom: What’s wrong with the taste?

Me: It tastes like eggs.

Mom: It IS an egg.

Me: But I don’t like eggs.

Mom: Fine, then you don’t have to eat it.

Me: So how do I win this easter egg hunt?

Mom: By finding the easter eggs.

Me: How many do I have to find?

Mom: As many as you can.

Me: What do I get if I win?

Mom: You don’t get anything, it’s not like that.

Me: There’s no prize?

Mom: No, there’s no prize.

Me: Just the eggs.

Mom: Right, just the eggs.

Me: And you’re sure they taste just like regular eggs?

Mom: Yes, I’m sure. It’s just food coloring, it doesn’t change the taste.

Me: And there’s no candy eggs, or chocolate eggs, or anything?

Mom: No, no candy eggs, no chocolate eggs, just regular eggs, that have been colored like easter eggs.

Me: I don’t like eggs.

Mom: I gathered.

Me: If it’s all the same to you, can I just stay in a watch cartoons instead?

Mom: Fine…

Why we dream in metaphor

I have a friend who is starting a new job soon. I just had a dream where I was concerned about whether or not he would like this new morning radio show we were listening to. When I woke up, I knew one was a metaphor for the other, but then I thought, why? Why do we dream in metaphor? Why do we always dream in metaphor, why can’t we just dream about the underlying thing?

Our brains are predisposed to think in terms of metaphor. Why? Because metaphor is closely related to analogy, and analogy is necessary for classification. Metaphor it is a way of dealing with one thing by referring to its analogue, and usually pointing out how responses to that analogue are also appropriate to the original thing. As for classification, if you can find an analogy for some new unclassified thing, then you immediately know the new thing has the same classification as its analogue.

Our brains are hard-wired for classification. It is necessary so we can use limited memory space to store the learned responses for a variety of situations. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you have a hundred different situations, each of which requires you to learn a response composed of nine steps, and the steps must be executed in the correct sequence. That’s ten pieces of information for each situation. To deal with all one hundred situations, that’s 1,000 pieces of information to learn.

Now let’s say that those same hundred situations can be classified into five general classes. Now you only have to learn 10 pieces of information for 5 classes, plus one piece of information for each situation, namely what class it belongs to. Now to deal with all one hundred situations you only need to learn 150 pieces of information. That’s an 85% reduction. If you further assume that each situation has two exceptions from the general class that also must be learned, that’s still only 350 pieces of information, a 65% reduction.

This is how we deal with a huge variety of things from all areas of our life on a regular basis. Classification is the “compression algorithm” of learning. Analogy and metaphor are integral subroutines of that algorithm, without which classification would not work. Dreaming is a poorly understood, but important part of the learning process. This is why we tend to generalize. This is why we alphabetize our DVD collections. And this is why we dream in metaphor.

My Florida

The little Pontiac is a mid-engined two seater, and 20 years ago it was bordering on the exotic. Today, well, it goes from point A to point B, with an acceptable level of reliability. I let her warm up as I loaded up some supplies in the passenger seat and in the small cove it calls a trunk. When we were both ready I hopped in and drove south out of town, past the edge of civilization, and the antenna farms that lie just beyond. Through the jungle and into the Florida savannah that stretches southward towards the Everglades. The open landscape is flavored here and there with farms; growing oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, and tropical fish. And everywhere cows, always cows, and stands of live oak, and the occasional palmetto bush.

There are a few little towns along the way, a curious miixture of retirement communities of old people from the Northeast and Midwest, where polyester is still a viable fashion choice, and the best parking spots at the Publix supermarket are reserved for golf carts; and immigrant enclaves, where Mexicans and Guatamalans and Hondurans and others are busy chasing their own version of the American dream, which for them is little more than working in the fields by day, to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads at night. In between these villages you find the good old fashioned Florida crackers, the spiritual descendants of the original farmer/ranchers who were the only ones willing to settle this land from the time of the Spanish until the invention of air conditioning. This is red state country, land of Jesus and Budweiser and Nascar and Marlboro.

Here moss doesn’t grow on the north side of the tree; It hangs thick and silvery from every branch. Here a Cuban may be a person, but more often than not it is a sandwich. It is rarely, if ever, a cigar. It is hot here, and unbearably humid, but most years the summer rain comes and goes in the afternoon with a regularity that the retirees envy. Most true Floridians do not own an umbrella, for to carry an umbrella is a full time commitment with little payoff.

If you ever come here, you should know – the people here are insane, but for the most part harmless, and they can be quite fun if you get to know them. For lack of a better word, they are “kooky”. They, like the state itself, are a confusing mixture of oddities that make no sense together, yet somehow, it all works.

The Meaning of Life

When I was a child, I had a dream that I looked up at the stars, and in the stars I saw the answer. THE answer, the ultimate answer to everything. It was perfect, it was beautiful, it was complete. Suddenly, the Universe, and everything in it, made sense. Then… I woke up.

Of course the answer was gone. It evaporated the instant I opened my eyes to this reality. I could remember having the dream, and that there was an answer. I could remember how it all made perfect sense. But I could not remember, not even the slightest detail, what that answer was. It was gone.

When I was a young adult, I experimented with cognitive dreaming. This sounds more impressive than it is. It’s nothing more than the ability to recognize the fact that you are in a dream, while you are in a dream. It’s easy enough to do, you just “will” it to happen every night before you go to sleep. It may take weeks, but eventually you will wake up in a dream, so to speak.

Once you realize your current reality is a dream, you have options. You can just let it play out, and see where it goes. You can guide it, direct it, change it, push it in whatever direction you like. Or, once you’ve had enough, you can simply end it, and return to our other, less malliable reality. (Freddie Kruger will NEVER get ME.)

I’ve always felt there are answers to be found in dreams. There’s nothing necessarily mystical or supernatural about it. Dreams are a doorway into our own subconscious. And our subconsious is quite good and putting things together, working out the details, and coming up with interesting answers for us. If we just tap into these answers, they can be very informative.

Many years later, when I was a not so young adult, I came up with a plan. The next time I was dreaming, and became aware of the dream, here’s what I would do: I would find the closest telephone, dial information, and ask the operator, “What is the meaning of life?”

If she gave me any crap about only supplying phone numbers, I would gently remind her that this was MY dream, and in my dream you could call information and get ANY information you wanted. (The ability to change the rules of your current reality can be both useful and exhilarating. Really. Try this sentence on for size: “Oh yeah, I almost forgot… I can fly!”)

It took a while. There were many false starts. I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to remember to do something once you’re in a dream. In all fairness, I have a hard time remembering to do things as it is. Let’s just say I had many, many dreams where I wandered around with the nagging sensation there was something I was supposed to do, but couldn’t remember what. But I did go flying a lot – I highly recommend it.

Then one night it happened. I was in a dream. I knew I was in a dream. And, I remembered what I wanted to do. Yes! This was it! I was on my way now. I was both nervous and excited, and very pleased with myself for having finally remembered. I found a phone quickly and with little difficulty. I picked it up and dialed information, so I could finally ask my question. THE question.

Well… You know what I got?

Boop-boop-booooop. We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number, hang up, and try again.

Silence. (The long awkward type.)

Fuck! Okay. Don’t panic. Maybe I misdialed. That’s possible, right? Sure, I never said I couldn’t misdial. You can misdial in a dream, right? Let’s try this again…

I tried again. I tried every number I know for information. Twice. I dialed the operator directly, and asked her to put me through. I made up a special number that only worked for my reality, that always, always, always connects you to information, and dialed that. It was no use. No matter what I tried, the result was always the same: A recording. THE recording. “We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed…”

Then… I woke up.

I couldn’t hear it, but I know, I just know… Somewhere, the Universe was laughing.

Danger Ball

Several years ago my wife and I lived in a small town where there wasn’t a lot to do on a Saturday night. A good friend or ours would come over to the house, and we would all sit around and drink beer and think of new ways to amuse ourselves. On occasion we would invent new sports. My favorite was a creation we called “Danger Ball”. Danger Ball was a simple game, all you needed was a baseball, a dark night, and a large backyard. It helped if you had been sitting around drinking beer before playing, but that part is optional. The game works like this: you go outside on a dark night, and toss the baseball straight up into the air as high as you can… then try to catch it. You can keep score if you like, but the fun part was simply trying not to get yourself conked in the head when you lost sight the ball. Ah, good times…

My wife sent me an email the other day, about a story she heard on radio while listening to Paul Harvey. This was the full text of her message:

“Just heard a story about a man playing ‘Danger Brick’, sounded very similar to ‘Danger Ball’… except with a brick. He was found the next morning laying unconscious in his yard.”

I could SO not be Amish

Monday night (Labor Day), a storm blew through here.  Typical Florida storm, but…  In one instant there was a bright flash, and a really LOUD boom, and all the lights went out.  It got real, real dark.

I didn’t think about it before then, but it’s been a really long time since we lost power that wasn’t during a hurricane.  And a hurricane is different because we always have people with us, and there’s lots going on, and we sit around and eat and drink and play cards and watch the flying debris outside.

This was just me and Kat at home, nothing going on, and just a piddly, boring little storm outside.  I swear to God within 10 minutes I was bored out of my mind.

I asked Kat how people did it, living with no electricity.  She said it was about 9:30, so the Amish were in bed already.  After all they had to get up at four in the morning to do farm stuff.

I could so not be Amish.

I Have Seen It All Now

I can die now. I have seen everything. There is nothing left that could possibly top what I have seen. Oh, I thought I had seen it all. I have seen a man walk on the moon. I have seen the fall of the Berlin wall. I have seen solo synchronized swimming. I have seen the president of the United States playing Elvis tunes on a saxophone. I have seen a movie called Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I have seen Howard Stem. I thought I had seen it all, but nothing could beat what I saw on TV the other night.

I have always suspected that television was indeed a vast wasteland, but I didn’t know how bad it had become. When I was a child there were only three channels on the tube, and quite often there was nothing on to watch. But we were quite happy watching our three channels of nothing. Then along came cable, and suddenly our entertainment options exploded. We now had thirteen channels of nothing to watch. Some of them even had nothing on 24 hours a day. We marveled at this electronic miracle. Then VCR’s were invented, so that if nothing was on, we could tape it and watch it later. Plus they had those nifty little digital clocks on the front of them. We didn’t even mind that turning on the vacuum cleaner and the air conditioner at the same time would cause a micro-second flicker that instantly reset the clock to a flashing 12:00. Then cable grew, soon there were 30, or even 60 channels of even less interesting stuff to watch. If that wasn’t enough, along came home satellite systems. Now you could watch nothing in a foreign language, like Canadian. And it is an even wider variety of nothing. Never again will you miss you favorite lose weight and get rich through psychic 1-900 counseling infomercial, they run 24 hours a day. There are exciting sports like harness racing, cricket, and Scandinavian women’s full contact volleyball. (Well, not really, but I wish there was.)

And the movies are great too, classics like Meatballs 3, the memorable Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and, of course, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. (I swear I didn’t make that up. It is a touching version of that old traditional love story: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl eats boy in a sacred ritual to please the pagan gods of the mighty avocado.) Now they say that soon there will be 500 channels on cable. It boggles the mind. I hope somebody makes a remote control with turbo so I can keep up. The way I figure, it should break down something like this: In addition to the 60 or so channels of nothing we already have, there will be at least 100 channels of non-stop infomercials, another 100 or so home shopping channels, roughly 100 channels of religious programming, probably about 100 channels showing nothing but reruns of Cheers and/or Simon and Simon, at least one all-Elvis channel, and 39 channels of Guatemalan rules flag football.

One night I was channel surfing through the electronic ocean, and I saw it, the sight to end all sights. It is etched into my mind; it is indelibly stamped into my very being, I will carry this image with me to the day I die. I saw Robin Leach eating Spam on a Twinkie. I swear this is true; even my mind cannot invent something as twisted as this. Right there on the Television Food Network, in living color and full stereo sound, was Mr. Lifestyles himself choking down a Spam covered Twinkie. Any more questions about TV being a wasteland?

How does something like this happen? Well to start with, you need a food channel And, yes indeed, there is a food channel. There is a channel for everything, there are channels about other channels, there are channels about channeling, there are channels about the English channel, there are channels about Chanel no.5, and in the midst of it all, there is a food channel. As it turns out, Robin Leach has his own show on the food channel; it’s called Food That Might Possibly Be Eaten By People Who Think They Are Rich And Famous, or something like that. This particular night he had two items on his agenda. One, showing the correct way to open a bottle of champagne, and two, talking to a woman who had written a book about Spam. I don’t know which is more disturbing, the fact that someone has written an entire book about Spam, or that there are people out there who will pay good money to read it. Or the fact that this Spam person was being interviewed on national television. Or the fact that Ms. Spam was so seemingly important that she was being interviewed by phone. Or the fact that I was actually watching this. Take your pick of disturbing images, at least I didn’t buy the book. Actually the Spam lady’s book was about all different types of junk food, not just the slimy pink kind that comes in a tin can.

Robin Leach lost it. Somewhere between talking about that strange glaze-like jelly at the top of the Spam can and talking about where the cream in the Twinkie comes from, and how it gets there, he simply lost it. Perhaps he had been practicing on opening the champagne bottles earlier, I don’t know, but in any case he completely lost it. He had a package of Twinkles and a can of Spam in front of him. He cracked open the Spam, scooped out a nice healthy chunk with his fork, and tossed it down. The stage crew audibly grimaced, if such a thing is possible. Robin didn’t seem to like the Spam very much. Looking back, I don’t think he really cared much for the Spam lady either. Then he broke out the Twinkies. He seemed to like those better. Then he popped open a Coca-Cola and washed it all down. He seemed to like that too, although not as much as, say, champagne. Then the perverse side of Robin Leach came out, he began mixing and matching. He grabbed another Twinkie in one hand, then a forkful of Spam in another. The crew began to grimace again. They urged him not to do it, but he was out of control. He spread the Spam on top of the Twinkie like it was cheese on a cracker, only it wasn’t. And as God is my witness he ate it.

He seemed to enjoy it, sort of like Jack Nicholson seemed to enjoy smashing things up in that Steven King movie. Some of the crew excused themselves and ran towards the bathroom. He didn’t stop there. Since Coke and Twinkies go together, and he forced the Spam and Twinkies together, he thought he would give Coke and Spam a try. He poured the Coke into the Spam can, making what may be the world first Coca-Cola and Spam float. Little pieces of that jelly-like stuff started floating to the top. It turned a very strange color, one you don’t find occurring in nature. Then Robin Leach drank his Spam float. I was stunned. The crew was gone. Robin Leach grimaced. Robin Leach turned a very strange color, one you don’t find occurring in nature. This seemed to snap him back to his senses. He hung up on the Spam lady, tossed the whole Spam/Twinkie/Coke mess into the trash, and moved over to work on opening those champagne bottles. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. He opened one of the bottles, not at all the correct way, and poured himself a tall one. The crew was slowly beginning to return. He mumbled something about never having Spam on the show again, tossed back his champagne glass, and went to a commercial. Hopefully, he’s learned his lesson. If there is anything to be seen that can top this I’m not sure I want to see it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to see the Spam incident, but it’s too late now.