Wednesday, December 28, 2011

IF IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS...


December 28, 2011

By the time you’ve joined the line at the returns counter, the guy who brought you the wrong sized slippers has already waddled off back to the North Pole with his overworked reindeer. Absolutely knackered.
But you’re tired too, weary of doing this every year with stuff that doesn’t fit or presents you just plain don’t like. So you’ll take the money instead. Isn’t that what Christmas gifting is all about these days?
And who hasn’t noticed that while there might be 20-odd store clerks at the checkouts there’s only one at the returns desk. Some folks see the long line and give up the wait. “Santa? I told that wooly-headed old chimney clown my size. These jeans are gargantuan. They’d fit him rather than me – and you could probably squeeze a few elves in there too.”
Returns is one game, re-gifting another. Many people do it and it’s entirely possible for that unwanted bottle of elder wine you offloaded to come back to you after one or two intermediate giveaways. And, if you’re lucky, maybe even unopened.
A year ago a friend made me a late Christmas present of a “Beuatful Green Stimware Set”, which is what it said on the box above the Chinese picture-writing. Trouble was the colored stems were attached to the bowls at odd angles, so that these wine glasses stood on the table looking like sad skinny leprechauns with their big, empty heads hung low. Why, thanks a lot, Maggot. Your good heal... oops! It tipped over. Luckily we had toasted her with appropriately cheap supermarket “champagne”, so no great loss. Looking inside the box later, we discover the original message: “To Maggie. Merry Christmas. Hank.”
There are many such brow-furrowing tales and there’s even an art to re-gifting, as set out by authoress Barbara Bitela. Some folks see Christmas as a time to clear out their closets. Old clothes. Fruit bowls. That Georgia Bulldogs Garden Gnome. One woman was given a meat grinder with bits of old meat in it. So if it’s the thought that counts – think twice.
That’s the trouble with late Christmas presents. Even if it looks new-ish, at the back of your mind is often the suspicion that here’s something the giver received a few days earlier and decided to dump on someone. And you’re the lucky victim.
It’s a feeling that there’s something odd, even with timely gifts, especially clothes that might fit but feel kind-of “wrong”. And here I should mention someone I used to know who’s the Dowager of Disgusting. She buys the latest fashions, wears them to the seasonal parties, taking care to keep all the tags tucked inside and tries to avoid “christening” them with food and wine.
Then she returns them to the store for a refund. Yeccchh. Not only is this mega-cheezy but it’s also unsanitary. How’d you like to buy a dress new, that, unbeknownst to you, had someone else’s sweat in it? Perhaps even lice.
There are those who see only the money. Among them the folks who bought up hundreds of celebrated chef Heston Blumenthal’s scrumptious Christmas puddings for $20 and sought to sell them on eBay for 25 times that amount. There were some buyers, but it would serve these opportunists right if they were stuck having Christmas Pud for breakfast, lunch and dinner until June.
Cakezilla was a multicolored 13-lb 16-inch confection topped with oodles of icing and fluorescent candies that could easily have passed for an alien spacecraft. The glistening behemoth touched down three times on its voyage along I-20 and wound up in Monroe.
This home-made torte spaceship was first presented at Thanksgiving, handed on, uneaten, as a Christmas gift, then forwarded, again untouched, as an New Year’s gateau to another lucky family. Cake Encounters Of The Third Kindness. And here we knew the person who actually baked the beast: mom had made it for her son.
As an after-Christmas gift, the ex-wife (Cruella, or whatever her name was)
gave me a brass “F” paperweight and I’m convinced it was a message that had nothing to do with my name. Apparently the new broomstick I got her was not appreciated.
One of the presents I received this time around was a $5 multitool. Which was nice. Except the giver felt he just had to spin me a tale about how he had really wanted to get me an $80 belt like his own but didn’t know my measurement. We’ve been good friends for the last five years and we’re the exact same size.
Do we give expensive presents to show we “care”? Then how about a car? We’ve all seen the commercials. But who gets a brand new vehicle for Christmas? And in this economy? Does anyone here in Walton County really shell out $20,000 or so for a present? I’d like to make that person my very best personal friend.
Which takes me back to my youth and the family who bought each other really extravagant items. Under the tree were cameras and hi-fi equipment and jewelry and all these goodies evoked gasps of glee as they were opened.
A month later, Christmas long forgotten, the recipients’ gasps were for another surprise – a bill in the mail. Only the down payment had been made on the glorious gift they received. So now there was a two-year responsibility to keep up the instalments or have that Christmas prezzie repossessed. You hated it? Too bad. Keep paying.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY DETRACTORS


December 21, 2011

First off, let’s sum up: I am a brave snake whom a local church elder wants the Arabs to kill. I’m ignorant. I need a history lesson and I observe a bankrupt culture. How much more worthless can one be?
What I’ve learned in writing this column is that it’s not okay to call for hatemongers to restrain themselves, for doctor-killers to lay down their arms or for folks to become more skeptical.
Constraint and moderation are dirty words. I never knew that. Reasonable Republicans are no better than Obama, I’m advised. When I call for peace on earth I’m an extremist.
It’s not kosher to wish non-Christians a Happy Christmas. This holiday is exclusive. Keep Jesus and Santa away from those ugly unbelievers.
How come I didn’t know the Nazis were lefties (was it because they weren’t?). And boy, was I wrong about those Sarah Palin rallies. I’m now instructed that the communists and socialists were behind all that anger, not the folks who showed up armed, calling for our president to be assassinated. And it’s perfectly fine to issue death threats against him or Democrats even though that would be a terror crime netting you five years in the pokey.
I‘m told that Palin fans who spat on black congressmen were not being violent regardless of Georgia law that classes it as battery. And a likely felony too, because it’s also a hate crime.
How do I know all these things? From the letters of certain readers of this newspaper.
Jim Burleson wants me to be “slaughtered” in Syria. I bear you no malice, Sir, and I forgive you for knew not what you wrote; when you penned that veiled threat you weren’t in control of your emotions. You’re a leader at your church, the Summit, so I assume that you’re normally a man of peace and piety. In this time of goodwill I will pray for you.
I bless them that curse me (Luke 6:27-31 KJV).
Local republican chairman Roy Roberts calls me a “looney” and a snake. He implies I’m a Godless heathen and then accuses me of the very thing he’s doing. I would read the rest of this gentleman’s undeserved obloquy but I can’t find my glasses.
I know you are but what am I? (apologies to Pee Wee Herman). No, no, I think I’ll leave the name-calling to the infants. However: “Lai shuo shi fei zhe - bian shi shi fei ren”. Ancient Chinese proverb: What Peter says about Paul tells more about Peter than Paul (I didn’t know there were ancient Chinese guys named Peter or Paul).
Mike Crone, local tea party secretary, calls me “brave” for writing this column while surrounded by conservatives. What, Sir, are you saying exactly?
In an astounding reversal, Fox News, the corporate propaganda channel, now supports our president and the lefties. I never knew that, but it’s what Mr Crone boldly declares in his letter. So the fierce Obama-bashing we see on Fox is just a ploy? Wow! That’s some artful dodge, pretending day-in-day-out that you loathe the guy when in fact you’re backing him. I’m not sure I could keep up such a masquerade for one minute.
Mr Crone, who is unaware the Nazis sent their enemies the Socialists to the death camps, wants to teach me history. If I might please politely decline...
Call me a nose-in-the-air head-in-the-sand know-it-all stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy or call me Brash Brit, but I still prefer the old ways: honesty, integrity, doing the right thing, and open, civilized discussion...
Instead, I’ve seen in this newspaper ad hominem attacks on my fellow journalists from some in the community who ought to act more like Southern gentlemen.
“Robbie Schwartz, your liberalism is showing.” What, like “your fly is open”? Worse than that? And anyway, so what! As though liberalism is something to be ashamed of, embarrassed about. Quite the opposite, Mr Bob Hunt. Liberalism is compassion, caring for others, loving thy neighbor. All the Christian things.
Loganville tea partygoer Donald Ashworth wants to see my lip buttoned; he’s written demanding this column be canceled because it’s “trash”. Hey, Wehner’s not saying what I’m saying so shut him up!
I don’t think that’s quite how it works, squire. And I wish folks wouldn’t distort my words and then attack me for something they themselves just fabricated.
This is America, so I hope our good folk will continue to write in. Because this newspaper is a perfect open forum for y’all’s ideas and counter-ideas that could improve our country and our county. Disagree, by all means. But it’s Christmas, so c’mon guys, easy on the name-calling, it’s so unproductive.
There are no snakes on the Walton Tribune. Just journalists who seek the truth and report and comment on developments as they see them for the benefit of the community.
Nothing is really that complicated, although it does require a bit of our time to unravel the web of confusion spun so deliberately and expertly by the forces that seek to rein in our freedoms.
So, friends and nay-sayers, do make your point as long as it’s based on straight facts and rational argument, not just slogans and insults. Simply parroting Fox News without checking isn’t good enough. People echo Limbaugh and O’Reilly. They quote Hannity, Boortz, Beck...
I wish they would just quote themselves.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

XING OUT THE CHRISTMAS X FACTOR


December 14, 2011

Tis the season of goodwill and yet I need to clear the air about something that continues to make me so very, very X. It’s a practice that’s become increasingly prevalent in our helter-skelter wannit-now society and you see it all over the place at this time of year.
It’s the use of an X for cross, as I did in the preceding paragraph to express my annoyance, but also, most disturbingly, an X for Christ. So we have Xmas. An absolutely abhorrent abbreviation; I never have used it and never will, not even when scribbling in the greatest haste. There’s just something irreverent about it, almost insulting – and it might be a good idea to be careful when taking a chance on offending God.
Xmastime is when Xians celebrate the birth of X? Not plain old ubiquitous Mr X but X the Savior, X the Redeemer. Yes, Jesus X, the son of God born in a manger to the Virgin Mary. That X.
And taking the next logical, albeit oh-so-ridiculous, step, Easter marks the time X died on the X for our sins? Puh-lease.
Who in tarnation came up with that contraction and how rushed must you be to avoid taking the time to write out “Christ” in full? Cutting it short might be far more excusable were His name to be similar in length to, say, Kaluannuunohonionio, god of human sacrifice, whom no Hawaiian would have dared call simply “K” lest he himself become the one having his head smashed in on the altar. But writing X to save just five letters? Can’t be bothered? I’m thinking come Judgment Day one of the Lord’s tests might be politeness. Perhaps even writing skills.
Can the X crowd not spell Jesus’ name? Somehow, I suspect that the people shrinking Christ down to a little-used letter near the end of the alphabet are the same holiday celebrants who illuminate their homes from chimney to basement with the most garish light displays...
But never set foot inside a church.
For these folks, Christmas is only about Santa and shopping and presents and reindeer and about outdoing their neighbors with incandescent, often incredibly tacky, opulence...
And among these we find the White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas putting on a splashy three-dimensional light display where regular operating costs can run $100,000 a week.
Christmas has been Disneyfied; front lawns adorned with inflatable oxen, lambs and roly-poly Santas ho-ho-ho-ing with their slightly Chinese electronic voices. My friend Paul Bannister’s nights are ruined by the folks across the street with their popping, flashing, chasing light display. In his half-sleep he probably thinks the police have finally tracked him down. The Chinese police.
X might find these displays wonderful, but I doubt Christ would. Midnight mass is more His style.
For many, Christmas means going to boozy parties and getting seriously sloshed. Celebrating the birth of Christ with a raucous “knees-up” - one of those wobbly pub dances - is some people’s way. But then absorbing a skinful of some potent neck oil makes Christmas no more special than whooping it up after your team’s big win.
There’s no religion involved, just letting your hair down, showing off, seeking to “be somebody” on the holiest day of the year that actually belongs to someone far more important.
Corporations using the X own our holidays. Mercifully, they haven’t yet invented the Happy Christmas Meal. Not yet. Come on kids, hurry up. Pin those McDonalds badges on and get in the car willyou. We booked this months ago for 10am and we only have half an hour before the next family gets our table.
Or the McChristmas takeaway. “Double beef McTurkey Wrap Combo heavy on the cran large X-cut fries and a medium Egg McNog. That’ll be $13.07. Second window. Please drive around.”
Here comes the man himself. Not the genial chimney chubby because he’s not all sooty, but what’s that under his white-trimmed red gown? You can clearly see ringed leggings. And big red boots. Hey, it’s Ronald McSanta. Hooray!
So whodunit? Who took the Christ out of Christmas and was it an attempt to secularize the festive day? Apparently not because there’s no record of Baby Jesus being born on December 25. Shepherds watched their flocks, as Luke wrote, but down Bethlehem way the herders never have slept out with their sheep during the c-c-cold winter months. However, if shepherds “washed their socks” by night, the way we sang the carol as mischievous tykes, then maybe...
Again, I don’t care that medieval monks used the X for Christ, or that Lord Byron wrote Xmas in 1811. Or that Oliver Wendell Holmes... Darn it, they should all have been more respectful.
And then I see the video that went viral of sailors longing for home who spelled out with their bodies on the deck of the British warship HMS Ocean the words ‘Merry Xmas’. It’s not right, lads, but it’s all right because you were homesick and maybe there wasn’t enough room on that cramped deck for Christ, just the X. So you’re excused - just this once and only by me. I can’t speak for the Lord.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

EATING OUR YOUNG. SHUNNING THE OLD


December 7, 2011

I don’t occupy Wall Street, I occupy my armchair with my tired behind and I’m ashamed of this because my head and my heart are out in the streets and in the squares with the people. I’m little more than a minuscule nanopercentage of the 99 percent but I am avowedly one of them. And I should be doing more than just cheering on these worried and bewildered Americans from the warmth of my home.
But they have youth and energy. I’ve enjoyed a life of opportunity that the young people are already aware will not be theirs because the runaway capitalist juggernaut that’s had its brakes disabled skedaddled with their future.
When every hope is gone, Gandhi wrote, prayer is real. Sure. But desperate people also act in a more earthly fashion. They protest.
Malicious politicians like Newt Gingrich tell the Occupy crowds to “take a bath”. You see the uninformed advising these folks to “just get a job”. Like what? Gravedigging, since people are always dying? Maybe a job competing with the children Gingrich has been saying he wants to put to work. That’s right, go wash dishes, clean toilets “until” something better comes along. There’s got to be a well-paid and satisfying position that utilizes your skills somewhere along the line, surely.
A lecture from the unknowledgeable who’re fortunate enough to actually be employed today. How convenient for folks still in work to look down on those who aren’t, to insult them with simple epithets. How snotty. I think I’ll ignore that kind of brainless advice. Let’s hear these low-information Einsteins repeat their mantra when they, too, fall through the cracks, and the cracks are opening up everywhere, earthquake-style. One person in every eleven is unemployed today against one in 20 just ten years ago. In Georgia it’s every tenth person: at least one of our immediate neighbors is jobless.
Our military coming home to rampant unemployment are among the most numerous and most disenchanted protesters because they fought for a different, purer, America, not the United States of Greed. Moreover, the Occupiers in general are all ages and from all ethnicities and income groups.
Jobs are a terrifying problem in this country and those affected are crying out, yet they’ve resisted attempts by politicians to co-opt their movement because it isn’t aligned with either party. They want to change the entire system. Get the money out of politics and have a government that’s truly representative of the people in place of our current, thoroughly corrupt, structure that makes a mockery of the word “democratic”.
What if all the work – not just in the factories but also in the engineering, executive and other fields – is no longer in this country? And anyone who doesn’t believe this is already happening should count the number of Chinese and Indian students at Georgia Tech where a class of 40 includes only a handful of Americans. Same at Georgia State, where the math, science and physics classes are overwhelmingly Asian. Their governments pay for them to learn here, then yank them back home to put their skills to good use.
Our society is different. It’s all to do with money. Who can afford $100,000 for four years of college? Plus living expenses. This is what’s bringing the young people out onto the streets because if they even get into college they leave heavily in debt with no job in sight.
Learning in America today is prohibitively costly for our sons and daughters, even if they use some of their study time doing menial jobs to pay for books, supplies, accommodation.
I know a 22-year-old in that category, doing manual labor with an aching back that might be sciatica because that was the diagnosis years ago at George Walton Academy, but the pain is far worse than that. What is it? How serious? He should find out for sure with an MRI but has to choose between the $500 deductible on his insurance or spending that money on tuition. So he suffers, hoping his spine will hold up until a decent job makes diagnosis and treatment affordable.
Not right you say? That’s what I say. And that’s what the scholars among the Occupy Wall Street contingents say. We have college grads saddled with enormous student loan debt being denigrated by the unenlightened. That and being brutalized by sycophantic authorities doing the bidding of the moneyed interests that own this country.
It isn’t just the young. Watching the various Occupy gatherings you’ll see ‘em all if your TV isn’t just locked on to Fox News. There are many old people voicing a similar quandary, only their choice is between buying food or medicine. One or the other.
Again not right? Well, that all depends on whether we’re human or not. Several animal species eat their young, many shun their sick, their old, even kill them off. Survival of the fittest. And that is what differentiates us from God’s other creatures, although, listening to the “me and mine” rhetoric that’s so common these days, I’m not so sure.
“Hey, I’m not sharing my stuff. I worked hard for it. Keep back. Go get your own. Can’t afford it? Tough. Begone with you. I’m keeping all of mine and you’re not getting any of it, so git!”
Whoa! Forgot to add the beastly word capping that little outburst. Here it is...
“Grrrrrr!”

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.