Dave Barry’s year in review

One of my New Year’s customs is to contemplate the year gone by, month by month, with the help of Dave Barry. A sampling, but you’ll want to read the whole thing:

FEBRUARY

Congress passes, without reading it, and without actually finishing writing it, a stimulus package totaling $787 billion. The money is immediately turned over to American taxpayers so they can use it to stimulate the economy.

No! What a crazy idea THAT would be! The money is to be doled out over the next decade or so by members of Congress on projects deemed vital by members of Congress, such as constructing buildings that will be named after members of Congress. This will stimulate the economy by creating millions of jobs, according to estimates provided by the Congressional Estimating Office's Magical Estimating 8-Ball.

Despite this heroic effort, the economy continues to stumble. General Motors, which has sold only one car in the past year — a Buick LaCrosse mistakenly purchased by an 87-year-old man who thought he was buying a power scooter — announces a new four-part business plan, consisting of (1) dealership closings; (2) factory shutdowns;(3) worker layoffs; and (4) traveling backward through time to 1955.

The stock market hits its lowest level since 1997; this is hailed as a great investment opportunity by all the financial wizards who failed to let us know last year that the market was going to tank. California goes bankrupt and is forced to raise $800 million by pawning Angelina Jolie.

The Obama administration's confirmation woes continue as Tom Daschle is forced to withdraw as nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services following the disclosure that he, too, failed to pay all of his federal taxes. He blames this oversight on the fact that his tax returns were prepared by Treasury Secretary Geithner. . . .

MARCH

An angry nation learns that the giant insurance company AIG, which received $170 billion in taxpayer bailouts and posted a $61 billion loss, is paying executive bonuses totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. This news shocks and outrages President Obama and members of Congress, who happen to be the very people who passed the legislation that authorized both the bailouts and the bonuses, but of course they did that during a crisis and thus had no time to find out what the hell they were voting for.

To correct this situation, some congresspersons propose a 90 percent tax on the bonuses, followed by beheadings, followed by the passage of tough new financial legislation that nobody in Congress will read or understand.

In other economic news, the CEO of GM resigns under pressure from the White House, which notes that it inherited the automobile crisis from the Bush administration. GM is now essentially a subsidiary of the federal government, which promises to use its legendary business and marketing savvy to get the crippled auto giant back on its feet, starting with an exciting new lineup of cars such as the Chevrolet Consensus, a “green” car featuring a compressed-soybean chassis, the world’s first engine powered entirely by dew, and a 14,500-page owner’s manual, accompanied by nearly 6,000 pages of amendments.

Garrison Keillor claims Christmas for Christians

Lake Woebegone sage Garrison Keillor has stirred things up with a column entitled Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone. An excerpt:

You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that "Silent Night" has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God), and Emerson tossed off little bon mots that have been leading people astray ever since. "To be great is to be misunderstood," for example. This tiny gem of self-pity has given license to a million arrogant and unlovable people to imagine that their unpopularity somehow was proof of their greatness. . . .

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

I don’t remember hearing Keillor being so crotchety. I’m not sure I agree that only Christians should celebrate Christmas. I think it is a wonderful tribute to the Lord Christ that even people who do not know Him nevertheless unwittingly celebrate His birth, giving gifts and invoking Christmas blessings on their neighbors. It is a case of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.

UPDATE: Read Lars Walker’s comment on Keillor’s rant. Among other trenchant observations, he raises the important underlying question: Do we think that Christianity with its holidays like Christmas should impact the culture as a whole, or not? Political liberals like Keillor, as well as separatist Christians, say “no.” Christmas like Christianity should be a matter of personal reflection and private practice. But it should be kept out of the secular marketplace. What we see here is that some Christian theologies affirm culture, while others do not. Also, note the agreement on this issue between liberalism and fundamentalism.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And yet, I appreciate Keillor’s critique of Unitarianism, the cultural elite, and the influence of Emerson. I especially appreciate his affirmation of creedal Christianity and the Messiah.

HT: Cheryl at A Ropund Unvarnish’d Tale

Mark Hemingway on “30 Rock”

Did you watch “30 Rock” the other day and hear a cryptic reference to someone you faintly recall hearing of recently? Well, remember how I mentioned Lutheran journalist and conservative pundit Mark Hemingway the other day? Well, he’s made it to the big time: having his name taken in vain on a sit-com and becoming a pop culture reference.

Now the political insider site Politico is talking about this. It’s a genuinely funny line, and Mark is both taking it in good humor and reveling in the attention.

What else do “30 Rock,” “Politico,” and the Cranach blog have in common?

Ridiculing the Penn State t-shirt controversy

Here is how to deal with a pseudo-controversy (referring to the student-selected t-shirt design for a football game, the logo drawn from the stripe on the Penn State uniform). Penn State Students Poke Fun at T-Shirt Cross 'Controversy' | Christianpost.com:

Though the two-side design looks innocent enough, to some, the combination of the vertical blue stripe running down the center of the shirt’s front side along with the words “Penn State” cutting across the vertical beam appeared reminiscent of a cross.

Penn State t-shirt

And to a handful of students, the seemingly religious imagery on the shirt was reason enough to file complaints with the university and even to organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, which in turn contacted Penn State officials.

According to Bill Mahon, vice president of university relations, six people have voiced their objections to Penn State over the shirt design while around 30,000 shirts have so far been sold.

Despite the small number of complaints, the school’s newspaper and even Fox News picked up on the story and brought the alleged controversy into light to the surprise of many Penn State students. . . .

In three letters that appeared in the Collegian on Monday, students further expressed how laughable the current controversy is and how it’s been blown out of proportion.

“While driving through Centre County, I saw power poles shaped like crosses. Advice to Allegheny Power: You'd better change your design before someone is offended,” wrote Penn State alumnus David Dimmick.

Recent graduate Steve Edling also mocked the current controversy, suggesting sarcastically that it was time to protest that all lowercase t’s be immediately stricken from campus as well.

“From this day forth, the words ‘Penn State’ shall be in all caps or never written at all, because crosses belong at Notre Dame and nowhere else,” he wrote.

This is a good example of how humor–satire, ridicule, laughter–is often a better way to respond to things like this than trying to out-outrage those who are outraged.

Bill Cosby & the Bible

Bill Cosby was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last night, a much-deserved tribute for a true humorist in the Mark Twain tradition. Notice that Cosby doesn’t tell funny jokes. He tells funny stories. How did he learn how to tell them so well? He tells The Washington Post:

Where does the gift come from? For Bill Cosby, it begins in a housing project in North Philadelphia. He's 6, maybe 7 years old. He's sitting at the knee of his father's father, hoping for a quarter. But first he has to listen.

Samuel Russell Cosby Sr. read the Bible, and told his grandson the stories. Young William didn't exactly listen — "To this day, I don't know the names he said" — but he sure enough heard. The details of the stories, of course, weren't as important as the way his grandfather told them — his tone, his pace, the look on his face. It was how you told it, not what.

All of it stuck with the kid. A couple of decades later, when he was honing his own brilliant stories on a nightclub stage, Cosby would hear it again in his own voice.

"You learned storytelling from a man like this," Cosby says. He's on the phone from Los Angeles, and he's in career-reminiscence mode. He'll be in Washington on Monday night to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. There's a big to-do in his honor, with celebrity presenters (Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner). It's basically a comedy Hall of Fame induction ceremony. So Cosby, 72, is reflecting.

"So [granddad] says, 'This is from the book of something, and then he'd start telling it. Telling it." Not preaching, just telling. "Somehow it pertained to my life, some wonderful lesson."

Little Cos absorbed it, but he was mostly focused on the quarter. Granddad kept his change in a sock, which he kept tucked into his belt. If the boy sat still and listened long enough, his grandfather would pull a coin from his sock-purse.

"He'd say, 'Take this quarter, put it in the bank. Save it. Don't go wasting it on ice cream!' "

So the boy diligently squirreled away Grandpa's quarters and then one day he . . .

"What?! Are you drunk?" Cosby sputters. "I went and got some ice cream! It was five cents a dip in those days. With a sugar cone."

Once again we see the influence of the Bible on a deep structure, cultural level. (Yes, I know it isn’t the purpose of the Bible to teach storytelling but to convey Law & Gospel! That’s not the point right now. Just as Luther’s translation of the Bible had the additional cultural effect of standardizing the German language, and just as the King James translation can be heard in the background of much of English and American literature, and just as the Bible’s portrayal of time as having a beginning, a turning point, and an end shaped our culture’s sense of time, its great stories and a grandpa’s impulse to tell them to his grandson shaped Bill Cosby’s comedy.)

Hu's on first

The Dodgers are in town, on the verge of giving the Nationals their 100th defeat. I was pleased to learn that the team from L.A. has a player from Taiwan named Chin-lung Hu. I’m sure Southern California is already sick of the Abbott & Costello possibilities, but there is no reason the rest of us shouldn’t indulge in that sketch again, now that we really can say, “Hu’s on first.”

Why is this so funny?


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