Tsunami Aftermath

December 30, 2004

The grim reports continue to roll in from Asia. At last count, the death toll has reached 119,000, with tens of thousands of lives still in jeaopardy from disease and other effects associated with the aftermath of this disaster. Even more bizarre are the reports that wild animals seemed to have largely escaped the effects of the Tsunami.

Relief agencies are overwhelmed. No one was prepared for what happened: the ocean simply reached out and took hundreds of thousands of lives with no warning. If the same thing had happened in an even more populous area (Hong Kong, Manhattan), the death tolls would have been in the millions.

I guess Jessee Jackson thinks this is a good time to tell the world he thinks Kerry won the election because of the pending vote that will inagurate Bush for another term, but he (and virtually all of his supporters) ought to know full well that his posturing won’t make any difference. Especially now.

I wish that the politically infuential would start working together to shape a policy that will bring as much help to the peoples who have been affected by this disaster as is possible, but I’m not sure I see that happening.

Too bad.

More than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than the presidential election, the way we respond to this disaster will define the America of the 21st Century.

If you are interested in giving to the relief efforts, Wade Hodges has posted this link to the Charity Navigator, a web site that can help you to identify legitimate relief agencies.

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Yes! Hibernation Time!

December 26, 2004

Had a good Christmas weekend with family in Cisco. Lots of turkey, games, sleep, and football to watch! And plenty of Christmas bounty for the kids. It wasn’t the Norman Rockwell experience from the beginning to end, but, as my last entry indicated, I’m trying to learn how to take Christmas day as it comes, imperfections and all.

Up next: my thrice-annual hibernation week, a time to turn off the ringer, turn on the answering machine, lay back, and decompress from work and responsiblity.

I’d like to say that I’m planning a time of deep, spiritual renewal for the next few days, but then I’d be lying. Truth is, I’m planning on playing Civ III, XBox, and board games with the family until I can’t see straight.

Also thinking about renting Napoleon Dynamite, Dodgeball, and Anchorman. Any other movie recommendations that go in the category of mindless fun?

Stay tuned: I may blog a few times as well.


In Search of the “Type B” Christmas

December 24, 2004

I want to ask a question that, if I’m not careful, can be misinterpreted. But I think, if you hear me out, it will make sense.

The question is this: has our culture come to expect too much from the Christmas experience?

I’m not talking about Christmas as an observance on the annual Christian calendar. I come from a faith tradition that has never – even now – doesn’t include the traditional, Christmas eve observance, but I had a chance to attend one at St. Paul United Methodist in Abilene last year, and found it to be very peaceful and affirming. Insofar as the faith-based observance goes, I’m all for “Christmas,” but that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I am talking about is Christmas as a holiday.

Christmas is a holiday. But it is a holdiay that carries with it tremendous expectations. The concept of the traditional family Christmas is so ingrained in our collective psyche, that I doubt anyone who observes Christmas can escape its influences.

Think about it:

– Families feel a tremendous amount of pressure to “have Christmas” with every possible combination of significant relationships in their lives. When was the last time you heard a young family say: “We had July 4 for our children on Thursday, then we rushed to Waco to have July 4 with grandma Smith on Friday, then we rushed to Dallas to have July 4 with my wife’s family on Saturday”? Ever heard of people attending an endless stream of Easter office parties?

– People routinely spend a month, or more, getting ready for this holiday. Have you ever heard of a mad-rush to the department stores to make Valentine’s day purchases on the day after New Years?

– Many parents invest extraordinarily high amounts of money and emotional energy to make sure their children have a “good Christmas,” often borrowing money or spending money that should go to bills to make sure their kids have a proper experience on Christmas morning. This kind of financial pressure isn’t felt with other holidays. When was the last time you heard of a mom fixating, in early October, over whether she could afford a “good Haloween” for her child? Did you ever hear a parent express concern that his child might not experience “Thanksgiving magic” if he doesn’t buy and do the right things?

– Is there any other cultural phenomenon where we work as hard to sustain an elaborate fantasy for the benefit of children? When was the last time you saw a TV program where the protagonist makes an elaborate, emotional plea to an impressionable youngster that there REALLY IS a “father time” and a “baby New Year”?

– The pressure to experience the full, traditional Christmas even finds its way into song. Ever heard of a song about how there’s no place like home for Labor day?

I don’t think this is a news flash. And I certainly don’t think I’m saying anything here that hasn’t already been said by others. But no holiday can live up to these kinds of expectations.

Last Sunday, Mike Cope, Highland’s preaching minister, observed that, for families who have experienced a loss or a crisis, the rule of Chirstmas is that you take the normal pain associated with the loss or crisis and multiply it by two. No wonder. Broken families can’t have a good Christmas, if the Bing Crosby experience is what you have in mind.

Holiday depression and stress – and the exhaustion that people like my wife feel every year at this time – they aren’t difficult to explain. Virtually everyone – myself included – have simply come to expect more from this holiday than it can ever deliver.

I’m not suggesting that it would be best if everyone just abandoned the traditional Christmas as a holiday. I’m not the Grinch, trying to quietly slip away with everyone’s decorations, gifts, and Christmas hams. But I am saying this: Chiristmas is a holiday. In the same way, Thanksgiving, Labor day, and July 4 are holidays. Holidays and holiday traditions are great, but I wish there was a way to scale back the expectations for Christmas where they are more consistent with the expectations for other holidays.

Holidays are a time to relax from work and school, observe a few traditions, and – from time to time – be with extended family. If the gift exchange isn’t particularly elaborate this year: so what? We didn’t buy a lot of fireworks on July 4, either. If we didn’t make it to grandma Smith’s this time, no problem. We had barbeque with her on Labor day. If mom is too tired to bake a Chirstmas turkey this year, that’s okay. We still had a lot of fun decorating the outside of the house last week, and maybe there will be time and energy for a big meal on New Year’s day.

I guess what I’m wanting is a Christmas experience for the “Type B” personality. Rather than being driven to exhaustion in search of the perfect experience at the right places every single year, why not just enjoy this day as we are so-inclined (and so able) each year? In that sense, maybe I am like a reformed Grinch – capable of seeing the value of the Christmas holiday traditions – but also appreciating (as did the Grinch in Seuess’ story) that Christmas doesn’t require a tremendous investment of time, emotional energy, and money to be enjoyable.

I know, I know. It will never happen. I’m fighting against cultural forces that are much bigger than me. Blah. Blah. Blah.

But even a reformed Grinch gets a Christmas wish, doesn’t he?


A New Low for Sports Violence

December 21, 2004

Looks like sports violence has now hit a sad, new low.


24 Reasons Why Christmas Vacation is my Favorite Chrismas Movie

December 21, 2004

24 reasons (mostly quotes) why Christmas Vacation is my favorite Christmas Movie. In some cases, I can’t remember it verbatim, but you’ll get the gist of it:
 
1. “Lord, forgive my husband, for he knows not what he does.”/”Amen!”
2. “We’ll just pass them and leave them safely behind us.”
3. “Look, kids: a deer!”
4. “Its not going in our lawn, son, its going in our living room.”
5. “Clark, Audrie can’t feel her legs!”/”Its all part of the experience, honey.”
6. “SQUIRRELLLLLLLL!!”
7. “Its good. Itsgood. Itsgooditsgooditsgood!”
8. “What can I say? Its Christmas, and we’re all miserable.”
9. “But I can’t swim, Clark!”/”I know that, Eddie.”
10. “That there’s an AARRR-VEEEE.”
11. “…don’t you get to used to seeing it there, ’cause its going with us when we leave here NEXT MONTH.”
12. “This here looks like a quality item.”
13. “Ain’t that just a big surprise? A BIIIIIIIGGG surprise!”
14. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to get you something, too, Clark. Something REEEEALLL NIIICE!” (Don’t forget, this is spoken in a Wal-Mart!)
15. “Worse?! How could it get any worse?! Look around you, honey, we’re on the threshold of Hell!”
16. “My cousin Eddie, here, whose heart is bigger than his brain….”/”I appreciate that, Clark”
17. “This here’s a quality item…”
18. The doorbell announcing the arrival of the grandparents, which, as it continues to ring, sounds increasingly ominous.
19. “Those little lights aren’t twinkling, Clark.”/”I know, and thanks for noticing, Ed.”
20. “Can I get you anything, Eddie? Eggnog? Pretzels? Drive you out in the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”
21. The electrocuted cat. (I sometimes rewind the DVD to watch this one several times…)
22. “It’s the gift that keeps givin’ the WHOOOOLLLLE YEARRRR ROUNNND, Clark.”
23. “Get me someone on the phone! And get me someone else while I’m waiting!”
 
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
 
24. Clark’s two-minute histrionic tirade about his boss, delivered on the threshold of his living room.


Read This and Weep

December 17, 2004

Sorry to be the one to break the news to you, folks, but the “love shack” is no more.


Console Football Gamers: Get Used to Playing Madden

December 14, 2004

Madden 2005, Electronic Arts’ premier sports game, got a run for its money this year from ESPN NFL 2K5, which not only consistently out-ranked Madden in reviews, but which retailed at an amazing $19.99 per copy.
 
Now in a move that can best be characterized as “if you can’t beat ’em, use your economic muscle to put ’em out of business,” EA has signed a deal with the NFL that will provide EA with exclusive licensing rights for the next five years. This deal will pretty-much shut down its competitors, inasmuch as a pro football console game without an NFL license is likely to be as successful as the Cowboys’ defense will be against Philly this Sunday.
 
The winners? EA and the NFL, who will rake in a ton of cash – charging $49.95 per copy to any console player who wants to play with current NFL teams for the next five years. The losers? Possibly, just about everyone else. With the ESPN franchise out of the picture, EA can cut back on its development budget for future Madden games, providing a roster update and (perhaps) a new feature or two each year.
 
What a shame. With the ESPN franchise poised to compete with Madden, some incredible things were probably coming to console football. But now, as things stand, I fear we may end up paying new game prices for roster updates and a new coat of paint, graphics-wise for the balance of the decade.
 
Console gamers, get used to playing Madden, because its going to be the only kid on the block for a while.