Fake News

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Every time conservatives see a report that is unflattering to Republicans, especially Donald Trump, they cry, “Fake news!” I even see this with some of my reasonably intelligent friends on Facebook. I just hope they don’t hit themselves in the head with all their knee jerks.

Remember the story about the child sex ring being run by Hillary Clinton out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria? Now that was fake news. There is a big distinction between news media outlets sometimes getting their facts wrong and a story like PizzaGate.

What is alarming to me is that Donald Trump’s fans rely on sites such as “Trump News” and the “Donald J. Trump” Facebook page for their news. I’m sure Kim Jong Un’s and Vladimir Putin’s acolytes get all their information from similar news outlets. The other day in my Facebook news feed, I saw a post from the DJT page with flashing headlines that said something to the effect of “Fake news is trying to destroy Donald Trump!” These sites make Fox News actually look fair and balanced.

I’m not denying that media entities make judgments every day about what content to publish and that some of those decisions might be colored by the publisher’s political bent. But that does not mean the the mainstream media is a purveyor of made up stories.  And suggesting that all news coming out of these outlets is fake is dangerous to our democracy.

Recently, a woman from an organization called Project Veritas tried to peddle a false accusation against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to the Washington Post. The Post, however, subjected the claims to the same journalistic rigor with which they approach all of their news stories and found no merit to the phony claim. Project Veritas was apparently trying to prove that the mainstream media will jump at any fake news that puts a Republican in a bad light. Clearly, their gambit failed.

The irony of all this is that Donald Trump has made so many false statements since he became a candidate for president, that it should make Americans’ heads spin. Independent organizations such as PolitiFact and Fact Checker have recorded hundreds of inaccuracies and lies spouted by Trump since he announced his candidacy in 2015. But what do they know? PolitiFact only won a Pulitzer Prize.

I have news for all you Trumpies out there. Journalistic integrity is a thing. Sadly, your news sources don’t have it. And while you bask blissfully in your ignorance, Trump and his cronies are getting away with just about everything but murder.

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The Worst Noel

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A one-hour listen to the all day Christmas music on my local radio station has taught me something. There are a lot of lame Christmas songs out there. Aside from the fact that the station runs through the same 50 songs on a loop 24/7, many of them are just unbearably cheesy or even offensive.

For instance, just yesterday I was listening to the Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” which was written and performed as a fundraiser to stamp out world hunger. There’s one verse, though, that has always bugged me. After describing the terrible plight of many people in the world, the song admonishes us, “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” What kind of Christmas message is that?

For years women have been complaining about the veiled date rape message of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”: “Say, what’s in this drink?” To be sure, that and many songs that find their way into the all day Christmas song marathons were written in a pre feminist era. Still, it’s cringeworthy in this day and age to hear a man plying a woman with drinks and pressuring her to stay overnight. (I must confess, though, that I like the rendition of “Baby” sung by Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel in Elf.)

There are some incredibly tacky and inane holiday songs out there, such as “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and the annoyingly lisped old charmer “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” And then there’s the plain schmaltz: “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and the interminable “Feliz Navidad,” the song that really put Jose Feliciano on the map. Feliciano, who had been booed and catcalled for his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at a World Series game (Atlantic, Dec. 16, 2015), reasoned that if he inserted the English language line “I Wanna Wish You a Merry Christmas” into his song, the radio stations would have to play it. Unfortunately, he was right.

I know some people love these songs. Some of it, I suspect, is nostalgia. How else to explain why anyone would listen to Jimmy Durante rasp out “Frosty, the Snowman”? And it’s easier to do a remake of a popular song from the 40s or 50s than to come up with new music and lyrics. Hence, the 80 millionth version of such gems as “Santa Baby” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”

My objection to these radio station playlists is that they miss so much classic and great holiday music. All the beautiful carols I learned as a child: “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night” and on and on. These kinds of songs get little playing time. There are some hauntingly lovely songs such as “The Coventry Carol” and “Breath of Heaven” that speak to the dark beauty of the Christmas story. And even more contemporary Christmas songs, such as Amy Grant’s nostalgic, “Tennessee Christmas,” never seem to make their way onto the air.

If stations playing holiday music 24/7 during the season really put their minds to it, they could play a list of songs with virtually no repeats all day long. Maybe then I’d enjoy some of the fun but currently overplayed hits like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Still, there are some holiday classics that, for me, never get old. Nat King Cole’s silky smooth “A Christmas Song” comes to mind. I guess I’ll spend the Christmas season listening to my own holiday song collection in the comfort of my home.

What are your favorite songs of the season?

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake

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The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case to determine whether the Constitution protects the rights of a baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The baker insists that as an artist (of cakery, presumably), he is protected by his First Amendment right to free speech.

I’m sure there are laudable arguments on both sides of this Constitutional question, and I’m neither qualified nor interested in engaging in them. But for crying out loud, baker, it’s a cake!

I’m sure in the course of their day to day business, bakeries make cakes for all kinds of morally questionable people. Generally, businesses don’t require their customers to pass a moral litmus test in order to serve them. A cake made for a gay couple would have all the same ingredients and requirements that the baker would use for a  heterosexual couple. There is absolutely nothing morally compromising for the bakery here.

After all, it’s not as if refusing to make the cake will cause the gay couple to decide not to get married. I could understand if a Christian minister refused to marry two men or two women. But a cake is just a traditional aspect of the celebration part of the wedding. It’s not marched down the aisle as part of the actual marriage ceremony. So the idea that a baker’s making a cake for a gay couple would compromise his or her religious beliefs is ludicrous.

Let’s face it. The baker saw two men in love walk into his bakery, and it disgusted him. He didn’t want any part of their business because he didn’t like what he saw. This is the same situation blacks faced at lunch counters all over the American South in the Fifties. Refusing to serve customers because of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is illegal. It’s that simple.

So I have a solution for the squeamish baker: Let gay couples have their cake and eat it too! Just tell them they need to supply their own same sex cake topper.

 

Hope

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With everything going on in the world these days, it’s easy to feel discouraged. Greed, intolerance, partisanship, abuse, and violence have all cast a pall on my holiday spirits. I have several friends who have stopped going on Facebook to avoid the constant bad news and negativity. To add to my feelings of despondency, I learned that a little boy from my town lost his battle with cancer last week.

But then at Sunday morning Mass, something happened to me. I was watching parishioners file down the aisles after receiving Holy Communion, and a tiny feeling lit up my heart: hope. All these people, young and old, had given up their cozy beds of a Sunday morning and come together to pray. We were there because we have faith that goodness and love are stronger than evil and hatred.

Faith is the ” realization of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) This past Sunday, the first candle was lit on the Advent wreath, its light a reminder of that tiny flame within each of us that can kindle hope.

Hope looks like Sisterhood Soap, a collective of Iraqi refugee women living in the direst of conditions who are taking charge of their destiny by making and selling soap. Hope resembles the unlikely friendship between an 81-year-old white woman and a 22-year-old black man, who met playing the online game Words With Friends. Hope is the dominant spirit at GiGi’s Playhouse, a nonprofit that works toward achievement and acceptance of people with Down’s Syndrome. Hope is Operation Christmas Child, a mission to spread joy and faith throughout the world with boxes full of goodies for impoverished children.

Hope is the sound of the Salvation Army bell ringing out on the cold, busy street. Hope is the light in a young child’s eyes when he sees a brightly wrapped package on Christmas morning with his name on it. Hope is abundant as families gather at the holidays, break bread, and share their love for one another.  Hope is the babe in the manger, the unlikely harbinger of peace on earth.

With a spirit of hope, let’s move through the Christmas season, spreading joy and kindness, and doing good for friends and strangers alike.

 

Countdown to Christmas

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On December 1, my kids would all jockey to be the first – that is, the first one to open a door on our Advent calendar. For me, December 1 begins the frenzied (for me), agonizing (for kids) countdown to Christmas.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I would admonish my children that they were not allowed to utter the “C” word until after we had stuffed ourselves with turkey and made our way home from Grandma’s house over the river and through the woods. But on December 1, I began to pull out all the stops.

Large red plastic boxes made their way up from the basement. Cookies dusted with red and green sugars appeared in the pantry while candy bowls got filled with peppermints and Hershey’s Kisses. The Christmas music I had refused to play prior to Thanksgiving now wafted regularly through our house.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. There are so many good things associated with it: twinkling lights, cookies, gifts, and Santa Claus. People somehow seem more cheerful going about their business with the background sound of jingle bells. And the season of Advent gives us a whole month of delicious anticipation.

When my kids were young, they would spend hours on their Christmas lists. Sometimes their wants were quite simple. One year my son asked for underwear and a Santa hat. Sometimes their requests were grander: a Brio train set, a play kitchen, a bike. My daughter has still not forgiven Santa for not getting her the My Size Barbie she asked for at age 6.

But more memorable than the gifts my children longed for were the traditions we kept each December. One of them was rolling out and decorating sugar cookies, some of which we would save for Santa. Our kitchen would be a flour- and sprinkle- infused disaster area. My son would pile his cookie high with frosting and sprinkles and then happily demolish it in minutes, red and green festooning his adorable face. We also attempted, sometimes successfully, the ubiquitous gingerbread house. I would scour the holiday candy aisle at my local grocery store for the colorful hard candies I remembered from my own childhood Christmases. These we would use to decorate our little houses, trying to make them enticing enough for Hansel and Gretel.

Another tradition of ours was to pile in the car on a wintry evening and drive around looking at Christmas lights. I’d keep the car nice and toasty for my pajama-clad kids, and we’d pass by our favorite streets and particular houses that really did Christmas in grand style. Afterwards we’d stop at a nearby Dunkin Donuts for a donut and hot chocolate before returning home and getting everyone tucked into bed.

There were fun holiday specials to watch each December and a huge Christmas tree to decorate. We’d play one of Amy Grant’s wonderful Christmas albums, and the kids would reminisce as they unwrapped special ornaments given to them or made by them in Christmas seasons past. I can remember Decembers when I would run myself ragged trying to collect all the Disney ornaments offered in McDonald’s Happy Meals.

But the tradition that really helped us anticipate the coming of Christmas was the aforementioned Advent calendar. It was a wooden box with a green wooden tree on top. Each morning a different one of the kids took his or her turn opening the designated door and placing another ornament on the wooden tree. Before long, the tree was filled with decorations, and it was clear that Christmas was almost here.

We also had a Jesse tree, which is a religious Advent calendar with 25 ornaments depicting the Biblical origins of Christmas. Each evening after dinner, we would read the Scripture passage on the next ornament and place it on the Jesse tree, and it gave us a chance to talk about Jesus’s origins as a descendant of Abraham and of the great King David, Jesse’s youngest son. This tradition gave us a glimpse into the true meaning of our waiting and anticipating: the coming of Christ on Christmas.

My kids are mostly grown now, but we still enjoy our traditions: homemade cookies, a new ornament and pair of pajamas for each kid, a Honeybaked Ham dinner on Christmas Eve, gift giving, and, of course, Christmas Mass, when “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” turns into:

Behold,
I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born
who is Christ the Lord.
(Luke 2:10-11)

May your anticipation of Christmas be happy and  holy as you count down the days of December.

 

The Upside Down

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The_Upside_Down_-_Public_Library_(exterior)I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that the plot of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things revolves around the Upside Down, a shadowy world that lurks beneath the ordinary world in which the characters live. The Upside Down resembles the real world, but something very out of the ordinary resides there.

The Upside Down is a good metaphor for the American scene today. While the surface looks the same and the sun rises and sets in the way it always has, the fabric of American society is dark, frayed, and oozing corruption.

Take our climate. Despite huge ice melts in Antarctica, rising sea levels, and an upsurge in cataclysmic storms across the globe, the Trump Administration persists in its denials that climate change is real and continues to push the consumption of fossil fuels, a practice that scientists the world over agree has contributed to the warming of the Earth. We can’t see all the storm clouds gathering in the Upside Down, but they are indeed there.

On the economic front, Paul Ryan is leading the charge on so-called tax reform, which is really just a giant handout to the rich masquerading as tax relief for the middle class. The “zombie-eyed granny starver” is stomping around in the Upside Down and preparing to chew on the meager earnings of senior citizens and the poor. And if he’s really lucky, he will eliminate health care for millions of lower income Americans at the same time. A twofer!

Along with widening the divide between the haves and have nots, our government is insidiously eroding our freedoms. Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the press have been designed to discredit negative media reports about him and his administration. Meanwhile, in the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has clamped down on news leaks and is reviewing department policy on subpoenaing reporters, both of which may have a chilling effect on investigating corruption. Sessions has also backed away from the Obama era mandates on police reform, promoted tougher sentencing on non-violent drug offenses, and renewed the war on marijuana at a time when states have begun recognizing its medical usefulness and relative benignity as compared to opioids and other drugs.

It seems that big business is the shadow monster that lurks in the American Upside Down these days. The proposed tax bill, the push to help the coal and oil industries, the deregulation of financial institutions, and, most recently, FCC indications that net neutrality may become a thing of the past – all favor the moneyed interests in America and, indeed, the president’s own businesses themselves. Yet for all the howling about Hillary Clinton’s supposed conflicts of interest as Secretary of State, I don’t hear many complaints about policies that will make Trump and his family even richer.

But for me, the most disturbing aspect of this upside down world is the abdication of character and moral responsibility. And our president, Donald Trump, lurks at the center  of the morass. His complete disregard for women, minorities, and even the disabled; his petty squabbles with anyone who dares criticize him; his constant self-aggrandizing boasts and outright lies – they all create a primordial slime that makes the Upside Down seem dainty and quaint. Since Donald Trump became president, incidences of racially motivated hate crimes have skyrocketed. White supremacists have become emboldened to march with torches and riot gear and hurl hateful racial epithets with impunity. And for all Trump’s howling over sexual abuse allegations against prominent Democrats such as Harvey Weinstein and Sen. Al “Frankenstien” [sic], he has shown no interest in condemning a serial child molester, instead tacitly encouraging voters to make Moore the new senator from Alabama.

I find it especially ironic that Trump would liken Sen. Franken to a well-known literary and movie monster. With Trump’s own questionable business dealings and sexual history, I guess I’d have to say, it takes one to know one.

 

 

 

 

The Leftovers

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Thanksgiving-Table-Setting-Featured-ImageI never realized that some people dislike Thanksgiving until I read Rex Huppke’s column in the Chicago Tribune yesterday. To me, Thanksgiving is the “un-holiday” with its emphasis on family togetherness, gratitude, and good food. Huppke’s objections to Thanksgiving mostly stem from his dislike of the traditional foods prepared on this day.

That got me to thinking. Everyone seems to have a favorite dish on Thanksgiving. You might be a meat-loving purist who goes for triple helpings of bird and then falls into an L-tryptophan-induced coma on Grandma’s couch. You might love stuffing, but only the kind your mom used to make (Begone, sausage and nuts!). You might be like me, the inveterate sweet tooth, pigging out on sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

The question is, what Thanksgiving foods do you most hope become leftovers? That’s the other entirely wonderful thing about Thanksgiving – the leftovers. After a day spent eating, drinking, and watching football (and not arguing politics, let’s hope), it’s great fun to peruse the leftover pickings the next day: the turkey just begging to be made into a sandwich with some of that cranberry sauce on top; the multiple pies brought by various guests; the soft rolls that sat sort of neglected while other foods took yesterday’s stage.

At my mother-in-law’s, where my family spends each Thanksgiving, there are some delicious Middle Eastern additions to the traditional Thanksgiving banquet. Alongside the turkey, there are usually a curry dish of some kind, delicious dumplings called kibbeh hamath, and aromatic saffron yellow rice. If we play our cards right, we will get to take some of this bounty home with us for post-Thanksgiving noshing. 

Yes, leftovers are one of the more delightful aspects of Thanksgiving. But what of those who have no Thanksgiving feast, never mind leftovers? On this bounteous holiday, it bears remembering that people all over the world are hungry. This is not a reason to despair but a reminder to share. We can make feeding the hungry a regular priority in our charitable giving. We can gather in groups and participate in food-packing events for Feed My Starving Children. We can even spend some of our holiday time at a soup kitchen. We can include a lonely neighbor or relative in our Thanksgiving celebration.

This Thanksgiving, while we are being thankful for leftovers, let’s not forget those left out.