Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Miracle

I published this post seven years ago, and again one year ago, and it feels right to do it  again:

My grandfather passed away two months ago.  

I have wanted to write a post about him ever since, and there are a thousand things I want to say in that post, yet it remains unwritten for one very unmovable reason:  I have no idea where or how to start saying those thousand things.  When a man lives 81 years, has 39 direct descendants, and impacts not only his family but countless other people as well, how can you sum up his life in a handful of paragraphs?  You can’t. 

But I do not have that problem when it comes to writing about Granddaddy and Christmas, after the way they converged three years ago. 

Granddaddy’s love of God, family, and country; his zeal when talking about those things to anybody with whom he came into contact; his faith in the perfectibility of man; his irrepressible Scotch-Irish mischief; his unsurpassed diligence in everything to which he set his mind or his hands – those qualities will all be written about in time, but for the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that in the last few years of his life they were cruelly stolen by Alzheimer’s disease. 

His mental sharpness started to dull about five years ago.  In 2005 his memory faded as well, and the fading was fast.  He carried on conversations with Nana without realizing it was her.  Remembering how she looked in their youth but not in the here and now, he said things like “I wonder when Peggy’s going to come home” while looking into her very eyes. 

When he and Nana arrived at our family’s 2005 Christmas Eve party, nobody expected to be recognized by him.  Because I did not want to confuse him by addressing him in a way that would suggest he was speaking to his grandson, and because I knew his recollections of battling the Nazis remained vivid, that night I simply called him “Corporal.” 

He asked if I was in the Army like he had been, and I told him I was not because of my diabetes. I told him that we nonetheless had some similarities, because just like him, my last name was Stanton and my blood carried Scotch-Irish genes.  He nodded and said it was good to meet me.  He said I should come around again sometime. 

Everyone at the party walked a tightrope, balancing holiday cheer on one hand with the sadness of loss on the other.  The man we loved, who had known each of us by name just a year earlier, had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. 

But as the night started to grow long, something sparked inside Granddaddy’s mind.  When most of us were assembled in and around the kitchen, he “addressed the room” and said it was great that we were there.  He did not specifically acknowledge that we were all family; however, when he looked at my Aunt Sharon, the third of his five children, a glint appeared in his eyes and he spoke the word “daughter.” 

He and Nana stood on the driveway as the party wound down.  I stood there too, as did several others, hoping to give Nana some sense of normalcy.  But it turned out that our presence was not needed, for while Venus shone brightly like the Star of Bethlehem, Granddaddy came back as if by magic.  Looking up at the Milky Way, he spoke to Nana by name and said:  “Peggy, I’m trying to remember the night we got married.”  Some minutes later, when he said goodbye to each of us, his face bore a look of recognition and for that moment it no longer seemed that there was a stranger trapped in his body. 

As his wife of 59 years drove him back to the house they had called home for 53 years, they talked about their life and their family and it was as if the dementia had never been.  After finishing that 45-mile excursion from rural Hernando County to urban Tampa, they sat up late into the night conversing and reminiscing and sharing life’s small but inimitable joys.  They lay down in bed like they had done so many times through the years, and for that one holy night Granddaddy was Granddaddy again:  John Stanton, Jr., child of the Great Depression, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, proud but humble, flawed but good.

When the sun rose, the dementia was back and my grandmother's husband, as she knew him, never returned.  But they had gotten that one last night together on Christmas Eve, and had gotten it after everyone assumed it was not possible.  As Nana said:  “That was my Christmas miracle.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sounds of the season (both good and bad)

Christmas wouldn't be the same without Christmas music. Religious hymns, secular carols, bouncy kid's songs, fast tunes, slow tunes -- they all fill a role in enhancing our enjoyment of the season.

I know most people don't give a hoot what I think about Christmas music, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Below are my thoughts regarding my favorite versions of three of my favorite religious Christmas songs, and three of my favorite secular Christmas songs -- plus, my thoughts regarding three of my least favorite.

Fyi, I don't like using the word "secular" in this context because many people attach a negative connotation to it where Christmas is concerned. But in my opinion, it's possible to capture the spirit of the season without referencing God or the nativity. Anyway, here I go:


"O Holy Night," Nat King Cole
Though this song was not played very much when I was a kid, it has become ubiquitous over the last 20 years as one big-voiced singer after another, from Michael Crawford to Celine Dion to Josh Groban, has recorded it and received major air time on North American radio stations.

But none of their versions holds a candle to the one recorded by Nat King Cole in 1960. His subtly rich, expertly deployed voice gives you goosebumps as he performs the soaring lyrics and makes you feel like you really are a shepherd watching your flock on that night two millennia ago. The background of the song, combined with the fact that Cole was singing it at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, adds an extra layer of significance.

In the 1840's a French priest asked a local wine merchant named Placide Cappeau to pen a Christmas poem. Cappeau delivered with a poem that has been variously titled "Minuit, chretiens" and "Cantique de Noel." A few years later the composer Adolphe Charles Adams set it to music, creating the heart of the hymn we know today, and I think it's worth nothing that Adams was Jewish.

A few years after that, a little-known American writer and abolitionist named John Sullivan Dwight translated the Cappeau/Adams hymn to English and brought it to our shores as "O Holy Night." During the Civil War it became popular in Union states because of a particular verse that is sometimes excluded from modern renditions: "Truly He taught us to love one another / His law is love and His gospel is peace / chains shall He break / for the slave is our brother / and in His name all oppression shall cease."

"Do You Hear What I Hear?," The Carpenters
When it comes to Karen and Richard Carpenter, mock them all you want for the vein-clogging sappiness of their pop songs. They deserve it. But the fact of the matter is that Karen's voice was resonant and she owned the middle octaves, singing them better than anyone else who achieved pop stardom in the 1970's. My heart thumps when I listen to her arching vocals on their 1978 rendition of this song, complemented by Richard's wonderfully executed accompaniment. On a side note, this song is surprisingly recent, having been written during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," The Carpenters
I have written about this one before, and rather than recount the whole story behind it again, I will simply refer you to that post. If you don't want to go to the link, I don't blame you -- so I'll give you the abridged version by saying that the words were penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as a poem during the Civil War, and subsequently set to music by John Baptiste Calkin.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? So does this: The best singing of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was done by Karen Carpenter in 1978.


"Happy Holidays," Andy Williams
It's not Christmas until you hear this on the radio. In fact, in almost every single year, it happens to be the very first Christmas song I hear on the radio... He'll have a big fat pack upon his back / and lots of goodies for you and for me / so leave a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick / hangin' on the Christmas tree... Rat Packer Andy Williams belts it out so good that I don't even known if anyone else has released a single of "Happy Holdiays" -- but I do know there's no point in anyone else doing so!

"Sleigh Ride," Freddy Martin and His Orchestra
It was 65 years ago that Freddy Martin made this recording and 30 years ago that I heard it for the first time -- on a cassette tape purchased from a RadioShack in Sylva, North Carolina. Bouncing with energy and buoyed by the big bandish optimism of postwar America, it makes me smile and snap my fingers and feel a yuletide chill in the air, even if it's a 75-degree day in Florida. In other words, it is ideal.

"The Christmas Song," Nat King Cole
Mel Torme and Bob Wells wrote it in 1945. Everybody knows it, but not everybody knows its title, so it is sometimes referred to as "Merry Christmas to You" and sometimes as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire."

From its line about "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" to its one about "kids from one to ninety-two" to its one about "tiny tots with their eyes all aglow," I daresay that no other song has lyrics which do as good a job capturing the manifold feelings of the Christmas season.

And, I dare ask why anyone has even bothered to record "The Christmans Song" after Nat King Cole did so? His rendering 15 years after the song was written remains, in my opinion, hands-down the best Christmas song of all time.


"Baby It's Cold Outside"
Actually, I kind of like this duet. It's catchy and cheeky, and since I'm not a prude, I am not offended by the persistence of the male who is represented in its vocals.

But can somebody please explain why it is considered a Christmas song? It has nothing to do with Christmas. It never mentions the holiday; and other than using the word "cold," it never mentions anything that's even related to the holiday. Calling this a Christmas song is kind of like calling "Summertime Blues" a Fourth of July song because, well, July is in the summer.

Listen to the lyrics. They are solely about a guy trying to get into a girl's pants. No matter how much she insists she doesn't want to stay for the night, he constantly pressures her to do so because it's cold outside. She explicitly says "the answer is no," and he retorts that "you'll freeze out there" and "what's the sense of hurting my pride?" At one point she actually says "what's in this drink?" When she worries about what gossipers will say, his response is that it would cause him "lifelong sorrow if you caught pneumonia and died." She calls him "very pushy" and he replies "I like to think of it as opportunistic."

Again, I'm not a prude, but seriously, what does this song have to do with Christmas? How come we only hear it this time of year, and only on the stations that switch to a 24/7 Christmas format? There is something amiss.

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
I have mixed emotions about putting this on my "least favorites" list. John Lennon was a genuine pacifist who meant no harm to anyone. I have no doubt that when he and Yoko crafted this Christmas song using the melody of the old English ballad "Skewball," they did so with golden hearts. It was meant as a Vietnam War protest, and I have no doubt that they believed lying down military arms in that part of the world would be good for mankind.

My problem is this: The blinders they wore when crafting the song were shared by millions in the West, and those blinders caused real life disaster for people in the Third World of Southeast Asia. Without American military might, the impoverished villagers of South Vietnam were left stranded without freedom and at the mercy of Ho Chi Minh's murderous tyranny.

Generations of people on the Indochina Peninsula had their futures destroyed and hopes crushed when America went the route that John, Yoko, and the other Sixties peaceniks preferred. Had the peaceniks trumpeted any concen for the real life fates of those people, the song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" might make me smile. Instead it makes me sad.

"Santa Baby"
This is far and away the most repulsive, alleged Christmas song of all time... In a season that's about selflessness, giving, and spiritual redemption, this song is all about self-absorption, materialism, and spiritual vacuity... Rather than seeking peace, love, and harmony, the narrator demands "a yacht," "the deed to a platinum mine," and "decorations bought at Tiffany's"... For evidence that she belongs on the nice list, the only things she mentions are "all the fun that I've missed" and "all the fellas that I haven't kissed"... Yes, this is exactly how we should teach our children about the virtues and principles of the season. I know it was written as a novelty song, but I cringe every time I hear it.

In any event, tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we are well under 36 hours from the clock turning to Christmas Day. Have a merry one!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Essence of the Season

This post was published last Christmas Eve:

It happened -- actually, the beginning of it happened -- one hundred years ago tonight.

When Christmas Eve came round in 1914, Europe was in the throes of trench warfare that walked the line between brutality and barbarism. The weaponry of the age was advanced but the medical care was not, and therefore the percentage of battlefield wounds that resulted in death was much higher than it is today.

The war that was raging in 1914 seems incomprehensible to most of us living in 2014. It is difficult to understand how the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian archduke while he was visiting Bosnia could plunge all of Europe, and eventually the United States, into a war in which the main foes were Britain and Germany. While it was happening and for some time afterward, it was referred to simply as The Great War. Nobody could have thought to call it World War I -- not, that is, until World War II erupted a mere two decades after The Great War ended.

As you would expect in the northerly latitudes where the war was unfolding, its western front was cold on December 24th of that year. After dark enveloped the countryside near Ypres, Belgium, soldiers from Britain's 18th Infantry Brigade heard their German counterparts singing "Silent Night," though of course the Germans were singing it in their own tongue as "Stille Nacht."

Some accounts say the British responded by singing "Silent Night" back to the Germans, while others say they responded by belting out "O Come All Ye Faithful." Though the exact exchange is now lost in the fog of time, there is no doubt that enemy soldiers reached out in peace by singing Christmas carols to each other across the no man's land which separated their foxholes.

After dawn broke the following morn, the soldiers emerged anxiously and met in no man's land, opting on Christmas Day to lay down their arms and mingle as human beings. They chose, if only for a day, to embrace their commonality and ignore the deadly designs drawn up for them by politicians in distant capitals. They talked -- haltingly given their different languages, but effectively nonetheless -- and they exchanged trinkets as gifts. They even played soccer, using actual soccer balls in some games and empty corned beef cans in others.

And those references to "some" games and "other" games reflect the most remarkable thing about the impromptu civility shown by enemy troops: It occurred not only near Ypres but at multiple spots along the western front. 

Friendly Limey-vs.-Kraut soccer matches popped up in several places. The most famous involved Germany's 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment facing a UK brigade comprised mostly of Scotsmen. The Germans won that one by a score of 3-2 and one of their lieutenants, Johannes Niemann, wrote that "us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts."

Some military leaders were appalled that their charges were fraternizing with the enemy, and some lower-ranking personnel were also appalled. According to a German soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, one of the regiment's corporals said with disgust that "such things should not happen" and went on to ask if the Germans participating in the friendliness had "no sense of honor left at all." The corporal was 25 years old and his name was Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the resistance of leaders and of people like the young Hitler serves only to strengthen the significance of what happened when those unofficial truces took place on December 24th and 25th, 1914. They are known collectively as the Christmas Truce and have, to a certain degree, become mythologized as the intervening century has passed. But the Christmas Truce did happen and continues to serve as a testament to the inner goodness that dwells in humanity -- the inner goodness that can come to the fore and propel us upward in the darkest of times.

To a maddening degree, that goodness is locked in a struggle with the badness that also dwells within us all. Man's divided heart is a paradox that vexes anyone who dares think about it. It drove Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to agonize that "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

The beauty of Christmas is that it spotlights the good and gives rise to the good without denying the existence of the bad. In his old age, Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and compelled to make a choice -- to choose between continuing on a road to perdition or switching to a road to salvation. There is no sugar-coating in the telling of Dickens's tale, and we remember the glory of Scrooge's salvation precisely because of how close he came to experiencing the horror of the alternative.

But back to the Christmas Truce: A full century later it stands out as a shining example of how the power of good, genuinely felt and properly perceived by individual human beings, can overcome the power of bad.

In the most tangible sense, the triumph of that 24-hour period was brief because it was not repeated in the subsequent Decembers of World War I. As the war unfolded, commanding officers tightened the clamps to prevent a recurrence of the truce. Plus, a rapid increase in the use of chemical weapons made people less inclined to take the risk of being the first to step into no man's land in plain view of enemy forces.

However, intangibles are just as real as tangibles; and they often turn into tangibles; and they often bear fruit much later in the growing season of Time, long after early-season tangibles have withered and died.

One hundred years later, after the subsequent invention of nuclear weapons and subsequent proliferation of mass-scale terrorism, a strong case can be made that old-timey World War I remains the cruelest and bloodiest war the world has ever seen. And yet, the Christmas Truce is its most remembered and talked-about event -- more so than the battles of Scimitar Hill, Verdun, and the Argonne; more so that the sinking of the Lusitania; more so than the downing of the Red Baron; more so that the arrival of American doughboys; more so than the Armistice.

Corporal Hitler despised the Christmas Truce, and today he is remembered as such a vile character that everyone but the lowest reprobates recognizes him as the personification of evil. Conservative and Liberal, Jew and Gentile, Religious and Atheist, Germanic and non-Germanic, European and non-European -- virtually all of humanity is in agreement that Hitler's name should be infamous forever. Looking back with the fullness of time we see that the commoners who enacted the Christmas Truce, by singing at night and shaking hands by day, did more to stir man's heart than the corporal who would go on to mesmerize millions and rule a nation.

Every Christmas we should recall the unofficial truce of 1914, but this Christmas is its centennial and it deserves to be loudly celebrated. We should make a point of telling our kids about it and holding it in the front of our thoughts, for it might be the greatest true example of what the Christmas season is all about.

Note: To commemorate the centennial, the British grocery chain Sainsbury's produced a three-minute, forty-second ad portraying the Christmas Truce. Yes, it does show a Sainsbury's chocolate bar that a British soldier gives to a German soldier, but it is the shortest and most unobtrusive product placement I have ever seen. The commercial is superbly filmed, superbly acted, and arguably the best I've ever watched. You can view it by going here. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice

Most calendars in the United States identify tomorrow as the first day of the 2015-16 winter. However, the solstice will actually take place tonight at twelve minutes before midnight, Eastern Time -- so here are some thoughts about the year’s coldest season on what is actually its first day:

I love how it begins with evergreen boughs on mantles, lighted trees in village squares, carols on the radio, and people knowing that life’s greatest joys come from giving rather than receiving.

I love its chilly mornings when fog clings to the surfaces of ponds.

I love sitting outside on those mornings drinking hot black coffee.

I love watching Sarah try to catch snowflakes on her tongue during our winter vacation.

I love driving across California’s High Sierra between snow drifts so deep they soar above cars and turn roadways into tunnels of white.

I love walking through Appalachian forests that are barren of leaves but laden with snow, and therefore have the appearance of black-and-white photos come to life.

And finally, I love that I can spend a whole day outside in Florida without feeling the need to shower every hour.

So for those who curse the cold: Remember that every season brings beauty, so long as we stop to notice it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

That Christmas Feeling

I published this post five years ago, when Sarah was a kindergartner and Parker was, like I said, "resting snugly in Erika's womb" ... Today, Sarah is careening towards middle school and Parker is bouncing off the walls with the energy of a meerkat ... She now knows the truth about Santa, and her theme park tastes have graduated from Disney to Universal, but she remains just as enthralled by Christmas as she was when I wrote this ... Meanwhile, he believes in Santa but recently asked if the Elf on the Shelf is a toy ... Re-reading this post made me smile so I can't help but re-publish it: 

As long as I can remember, I have spent the Thanksgiving-through-New-Year’s season feeling buoyant and hopeful. On December mornings like today’s, when the temperatures are below freezing and the grass is coated with frost, I have always found it easy to catch the Christmas spirit.

But even for people like me, the appreciation we feel for this time of year is increased many times over when we become parents. Watching our children’s faces light up with wonder, we remember how we felt at this time of year when we were kids. Surely, even the most jaded adult must have fond recollections of Christmas Past and hope that today’s tykes are enjoying Christmas Present.

When Sarah was two, I am pretty sure she remembered Christmas from when she was one, but I know she remembered it when she was three. That was the year we got a flat tire while driving to the annual Christmas Eve party for my extended family. It was dark and cloudy and we were stranded for some time on a rural road -- a circumstance that would usually lead to bad moods and quick tempers. But when the lights of an airplane tracking through the clouds became visible, I pointed to them and told Sarah it was Santa’s sleigh. Her face immediately lit up. She pointed at the lights and wiggled and shrieked to Erika: “Mommy! Mommy! It’s Santa! It’s Santa!” And a potentially bad experience was transformed into a golden moment that will never be forgotten.

Exactly one year later, when she was four, getting her to go to bed on Christmas Eve proved next to impossible. For what seemed like hours, she kept getting up every few minutes and running into our room, laughing and jumping and swearing that through her window she had just seen Santa’s sleigh in the sky. Then she started saying that she thought she heard reindeer on the roof. And she kept getting up and making these claims over and over and over again…

When she was five, we took her to Disney World on December 23rd, and the Magic Kingdom was decked out in holiday splendor. After night fell, as we made our way down Main Street USA with Sarah on my shoulders, she broke into song and belted out “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” Then artificial snowflakes started to shower down, blown from the tops of the storefronts, and the day came to a picture-perfect end.

The next night saw more classic, Christmas Eve moments. Sarah claimed she saw Rudolph’s nose in the sky on our way home from the annual party. Before bed she made a trail of cookies in our driveway to lead the reindeer to our door. At the end was a marshmallow snowman cookie, along with a note on which she wrote: “Rudolph only.”

Finally, inside our home on her own small table by the tree, Sarah left milk and cookies, and an unfortunately broken candy cane, out for Santa. We disposed of the food and drink before she awoke, and Erika was sure to leave cookie crumbs on the plate next to the empty glass. Erika also composed a thank you note from Santa to Sarah. We had already turned this into a tradition, and Sarah reveled in it again.

Sarah is now six. For the third December in a row she is rising before the roosters every single morning, opening her Advent Box and finding where the Elf on the Shelf has moved to. She is smart as a whip and I did not expect her to still believe in Santa last year, but now it is a whole year later and she continues to believe.

We have always told her that Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Jesus, and is about giving rather than receiving, and she seems to get it. Two years ago, when we told her that after opening her gifts she had to choose one to give away to the poor, she countered by asking if she could give away ten of her old toys rather than one of her new ones.

When Sarah was born, we actually said that we would not even do the Santa thing, specifically to avoid the dreaded conversation in which we would have to admit (there’s no delicate way to put this) that we have been lying to her all these years. Then Christmas came and we did the Santa thing anyway, and although I have some reservations, I don’t have any regrets when I watch her enjoy herself. Her excitement heightens mine and Erika’s, and I am serene in my confidence that she will look back on these days with happiness. After all, one of my fondest memories of Christmas Past is of the year my parents broke the news to me that Santa is not real. The memory involves a chalkboard, but that is a story I will share another time, perhaps another year.

The bottom line is this: I love Christmas to begin with, but I love it even more because of my little girl. Erika and I can not wait to keep making new memories with her and her little sibling, who right now is resting snugly in Erika's womb.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Carol Born

When it comes to carols, I have always found “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” to be especially poignant (if you're not familiar with it, you can listen to it here.)

It did not begin as a song, but as a poem written on Christmas morning by America’s greatest poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, more than 150 Christmases ago. At that moment in time America was torn apart and battling itself in the Civil War – a war that still stands as the one in which more Americans died than in any other.

When dawn broke that morning, Longfellow was despondent. During the war his son Charles had been horrifically wounded when a bullet passed through part of his spine, leading to a long and excruciating recovery. And as if that wasn’t dark enough, his wife Frances had died as a result of burns sustained when her clothes were set on fire by dripping sealing wax, which she was melting with the intention of using it to preserve some of their daughter’s trimmed curls.

But despite that sorrowful backdrop, as Longfellow sat in his Massachusetts home on Christmas and heard the ringing of local church bells, his faith in divine promise started to stir and he was moved to put pen to paper. The resulting poem was transformed into a hymn nine years later, when John Baptiste Calkin composed the music to which it was set.

The poem’s words absolutely speak for themselves. Since some of them are excluded from the carol we normally hear this time of year, here they are in their entirety:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Trumpian Tempest

Whenever words exit the mouth of Donald Trump, storms erupt in the brains of Democrats and Republicans alike.

The storms are anti-Trump in nature, and are so intense that you can practically feel the gales and see the lightning if you happen to be standing next to someone whose brain is beset by one.

Among Republicans, these storms are especially strong in the two very large factions known as The Conservative Base and The Establishment, but nonetheless, polls continue to show Trump way ahead of the other GOP presidential candidates: Friday's rolling average by Reuters had him more than 23 points ahead of second-place Ben Carson and nearly 26 ahead of fourth-place Ted Cruz, who happens to be the man most experts believe is most likely to defeat him. Plus, Trump's standing seems to get stronger every time he says something that would sink anyone else.

From that perspective, this is a confusing and inexplicable situation, so it's understandable why political junkies are driven batty by it ... however, every situation has more than one perspective from which it may be viewed, and when you step outside the conventional political junkie box, Trump's appeal is not at all confusing or inexplicable ... so, it is long past time for his opponents to take his appeal seriously.

*     *     *     *     *

First, let me say that I will not be voting for him when the Florida primary takes place on the Ides of March.

Second, let me say that I am not going to get sidetracked into explaining why I won't be voting for him. If anyone is genuinely curious about my reasons, I will just say that I touched on them very briefly in the third section of my July 14th post; and that this excellent summary has already been penned by Kevin Williamson; and that while you may not know about this apparent scam to which Trump is tied, Hillary & Co. certainly knows about it and is sure to use it against him as an October Surprise.

And third, let me sum up in one sentence why Trump is getting so much support: He appeals to people's gut instincts and gives voice to their concerns, rather than ignoring or dismissing those concerns.

*     *     *     *     *

Political Correctness is a parasite to our culture. It is on the verge of destroying our rationality, shattering our freedom of thought, and rendering us unable to deal with reality. In the words of P.J. O'Rourke, it is "founded on the idea that by means of language you can escape truth -- that if you simply give a different name to something you've somehow changed it. It is a very childlike idea."

Most Americans (including quite a few liberals) know this is true, and because they continuously see our so-called leaders shrivel and cow when confronted with PC nonsense, they are at their wit's end.

And now, after more than a quarter-century of Political Correctness running increasingly amok, along comes a presidential candidate who attacks it instead of bowing to it.

And whenever he says something politically incorrect and is called upon to apologize, he not only refuses to apologize but doubles down even stronger.

That such a candidate appeals to people's gut is as natural and automatic as night following day.

*     *     *     *     *

Most Americans know that common sense is better than academic think every day of the week. They know that the former produces outcomes that are more productive, beneficial, just, and fair than outcomes produced by the latter.

Yet most Americans see with their own two eyes that our government is being run as if the latter was better than the former. They see with their own two eyes that while it is being run that way, our country is foundering impotently and circling the drain.

Then along comes a presidential candidate who spits in the face of academic think, who talks in language that is clear and concise instead of vapid and rambling.

That such a candidate appeals to people's gut is as natural and automatic as night following day.

*     *     *     *     *

Most Americans know that bad guys respond to bald power, not brainy attempts at persuasion.

And they see with their own two eyes that our government's attempts to brainily persuade the bad guys keep resuling in the bad guys striking us with the momentum of a winner, while we piddle around with the diffidence of a loser.

Then along comes a presidential candidate who seeks not to persuade but to pummel; who seeks not to demur but to defeat; who evokes not the eggheaded spirit that created a tie in Korea and loss in Vietnam, but the Patton-like spirit that won World War II.

That such a candidate appeals to people's gut is as natural and automatic as night following day.

*     *     *     *     *

Theodore Roosevelt, famously, based much of his approach on the African proverb that says if you "speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far."

Andrew Jackson based much of his approach on the idea that if you speak loudly, people will assume you carry a big stick and they will behave accordingly.

Needless to say, Donald Trump fits the Jacksonian mold. We should remember that Jacksonian politicians have a history of success in our electoral system, especially in times when people feel like the nation is facing a mortal threat that can only be beaten by immediate, emergency-type actions. In other words, Jacksonian politicians tend to be held in high esteem during times like the present.

How much true bravery is there behind Trump's bluster? Is there any true thinking or knowledge behind his bluster? There are reasons to suspect that the answers to those questions aren't flattering, but that does not mean his bluster shouldn't be taken seriously.

*     *     *     *     *

Trump deserves credit for breaking the Overton Window, i.e., for broadening the range of topics that public figures are willing to openly discuss. Now that he has broken it, his GOP rivals should take advantage of the opening by attacking PC with as much vigor as him and projecting strength with as much vigor as him. They should take advantage of the opening by pushing back unapologetically against the liberal stereotype of conservatives -- the stereotype which falsely portrays conservatives as backward-thinking troglodytes.

Therein lies the key to bursting Trump's bubble. There is little doubt that many of the GOP candidates hold views that are shared by most GOP voters; however, by constantly debating issues on liberals' terms and often giving undue respect to liberal assumptions, and by frequently bending to Obama's will, they have given voters little reason to trust them.

Then, into the void comes Donald Trump, and voters who feel disenfranchised by the apparent weakness of elected Republicans are reflexively drawn to the apparent strength of The Donald.

They know that Trump's strength in political matters is untested, but are drawn to him anyway, simply because they are convinced that elected Republicans are weak. So magnetic is their attraction to a man who might (just might) stand up for them, that they are willing to overlook that his policy positions change with the wind; that his respect for the Constitution is practically nil; and that his personal character seems more like Voldemort's than Dumbledore's.

His rivals can defeat him easily when it comes to debating issues on the merits. Almost to a man, they have thought their ideas through and can lay out the flaws and weaknesses in Trump's proposals.

But before disenfranchised-feeling voters will trust them, Trump's rivals must debate issues on conservative terms, not liberal ones -- and must do so with stalwart confidence, like Trump does.

The cause of The Trumpian Tempest is really quite obvious, and so is the antidote to The Trumpian Tempest.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Real Saint Nick

History provides many examples of actual people who have, over time, become so melded into the popular imagination that we tend to forget they were real. Saint Nicholas is one of them.

Born sometime around 280 A.D. in the town of Patara, in what was then part of Greece but is now part of Turkey, Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents who died when he was young. Having been raised as a devoted Christian, he spent his life using his inheritance to help those in need, and in addition to his charity he became known for harboring great concern for children and sailors.

Down through history, one particular story about his generosity has persisted. In those days, women whose families could not pay a dowry were more likely to die as spinsters than to get married. It is said that when Nicholas learned of a poor man who was worried about his daughters’ fate because he lacked money for their dowries, Nicholas surreptitiously tossed gold into the man’s home through an open window, and the gold landed in stockings that were drying by the fire. Much later, this 1,700-year-old story inspired the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney to receive gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve.

Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during the anti-Christian persecutions carried out by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Based on the stories of his life, Catholic tradition considers him a patron saint of children, orphans, sailors, travelers, the wrongly imprisoned, and many other categories of people. Churches were constructed in his honor as early as the sixth century A.D. Today, his remains are buried in BariItaly.

For generations now, kids and adults alike have used the names Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Nick interchangeably, without giving it a second thought. But there was an actual Saint Nicholas, a decent man who is obscured by commercial renderings of Christmas. We should not allow that fact to be forgotten, regardless of whether or not we are Catholic (and for the record, I am not).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Never Forget

Pearl Harbor Day is upon us, so let us recall what happened 74 years ago today. The day after the bombing, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress on December 8, 1941, to request a formal declaration of war. His speech was simulcast to the country at large via the radio. In it, he said:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack…

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island…

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves…

Always will be remembered the character of this onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…

With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.

Pearl Harbor was attacked because it was where the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet was headquartered. The bombing, which killed more than 2,400 people, began shortly before 8:00 on a Sunday morning.

Five of our eight battleships were sunk, the other three were badly damaged, and multiple other naval vessels were destroyed.

The majority of the American war planes based in Hawaii were destroyed as they sat on the ground.

In addition, most of the American air forces based in the Philippines were destroyed during the nighttime attack on that nation, which FDR also mentioned in his speech.

By crippling our Pacific defenses, the December 7th attack left us extremely vulnerable in the face of an aggressive enemy to our West – an enemy that had signaled its intent to rule the entire Pacific basin by subjugating other nations to its will.

This came at a time when we had not responded to the fact that Nazi Germany to our East had already declared war against us, had already brought most of Europe under its thumb, and had signaled its own intention to rule the world by way of an Aryan resurrection of the old Roman Empire.

Such circumstances would have spelled doom for the vast majority of countries throughout the course of history. With their foundations based on the accidents of ethnicity and geography, most countries would have simply surrendered; or, in a distinction without a difference, entered into “peace” negotiations under which they would have to accept the aggressor’s terms and after which the lives of their citizens would most certainly change for the worst.

But the United States is a nation based on ideals. Our foundation springs from the knowledge that there are things greater than us, things which are greater than the transient circumstances which exist on any given day. We have always found strength in the conviction that our nation exists to support and advance those greater things, to the benefit of people all over the world, and this sets the United States apart from all other nations in all other times.

Taking heed from FDR’s appeal to “righteous might,” reflecting what Abraham Lincoln earlier referred to as the “faith that right makes might,” the American people of 1941 summoned the invincible courage to rebuild and fight at the same time they were under fearsome siege. They did this despite the fact they were still suffering through an unprecedented economic depression that had started more than a decade before.

Let us pray that those qualities – that will to power and that unwavering belief in the sanctity of human freedom – have not been lost as new generations of Americans take the baton from the great ones which came before. For as has been said, those who forget the past will be forced to repeat it.

It would be shameful if history were to record that we squandered what was handed down to us by people like Larry Perry, and as a result we failed to transfer freedom’s blessings to our descendants... And since you probably don't know who Larry Perry is, I recommend you look here and find out.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The beat goes on...

...but will anyone in the so-called mainstream media, or on the left end of our political spectrum, ever acknowledge it?

In the wake of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, something started making the rounds on Facebook which sums it up perfectly. It reads:  Let me make clear what the media is stumbling all over themselves to say: Two Muslims ambushed innocent co-workers and murdered/wounded them in a pre-planned attack at a CHRISTMAS party.

It is also worth noting that the innocent co-workers had recently thrown a baby shower for the two Muslims who would end up slaughtering them.

*     *     *     *     *

Since many leftists (including our president) have been telling us we should allow thousands of Syrian refugees into our country because our government will vet them in a way that weeds out terrorists, it is also worth noting that our government's vaunted vetting program failed to catch one of the two terrorists who did the slaughtering in San Bernardino.

As you probably know, the terrorists were Syed Farook and his apparent wife, Tashfeen Malik, both of whom are known to have been Muslim. Farook was born in the U.S. and thus not subject to the vetting program, but Malik was born in Pakistan and relocated to Saudi Arabia before entering the U.S. two years ago on a K-1 visa -- at which time she passed the Department of Homeland Security's counterterrorism screening process.

Like Jim Geraghty said in the post I linked to above: "Eh, well, we can't catch them all" is not going to be good enough.

*     *     *     *     *

It is also worth noting that after yet another slaughter of innocents by apocalyptic-minded Muslims -- who, by the way, were armed not only with guns but with homemade pipe bombs -- our MSM and leftists (including our president) continue to worry not about apocalyptic-minded Muslims but about gun laws.

France has some of the strictest gun regulations in the Western world and California has some of the strictest in America, yet the jihadists in Paris and San Bernardino were still able to get their weapons of choice, just like heroin addicts are able to get heroin even though it's illegal -- yet Obama & Co. continue to call for a nationwide imposition of the precise kinds of restrictions that California already has and which did not stop the San Bernardino massacre. 

And par for the course, I notice that the massacre was carried out in a so-called gun-free zone.

If San Bernardino teaches us anything about guns, it is that more Americans should be armed and there should be fewer gun-free zones. Wicked people prefer to attack targets they know to be soft, and they become hesitant when they can't discern whether lions are among the lambs.

*     *     *     *     *

Oh, and do you remember how our president once ridiculed Christians from rural Pennsylvania for clinging to their guns and religion?

Well, do you think he will ever even criticize, much less ridicule, Muslims for clinging to their guns and religion?

Me either.

*     *     *     *     *

Leftist redoubts including The Nation, The Huffington Post, and the New York Daily News -- not to mention Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy -- lambasted people for offering "thoughts and prayers" to the victims in San Bernardino. They lambasted them on the grounds that thoughts and prayers are nothing more than, in the precise words of the Daily News, "meaningless platitudes."

Interesting, is it not, that those leftist redoubts were not nearly as critical of the Muslims who actually engage in jihad? And isn't it doubly interesting that they were not one bit critical of the countless Muslims who abet terrorism by failing to condemn it?

*     *     *     *     *

Sticking with the Left's (including our president's) obsession over gun laws and mass shootings, it is also worth noting that mass shootings are, in reality, not worse here than they are everywhere else.

Speaking of mass shootings three days ago, Obama echoed the religious-like mindset of liberals everywhere by claiming "this just doesn't happen in other countries." Has he not heard about the three mass slayings that have taken place in France since January?

In this year alone, France -- whose population is 80 percent smaller than that of the U.S. -- has experienced 84 more casualties from mass shootings than we have experienced in the entire seven years since Obama took office.

What about Columbine-style school shootings (i.e. kindergarten through twelfth grade)? Well, since 2002, three of the four worst have occurred in Europe with two of those happening in Germany.

The United States has a much larger population than countries like Switzerland, Norway, and Macedonia ... so it stands to reason that in most country-to-county comparisons, the United States will have more people killed and wounded from such incidents ... but when you look at things from a per capita perspective, you might be surprised by what you find.

With population taken into account, if you compare mass shootings over the last six years that have occurred here versus those that have occurred in Europe, you will find that the U.S. ranks eighth (not first) in public shooting deaths per million people, and ninth (not first) in frequency of mass shootings.

*     *     *     *     *

A terrorist attack took place in San Bernardino a few days ago, and San Bernardino's citizens have not had to surrender their civil liberties. In Brussels, where no attack has taken place, the mere suspicion of one recently caused the entire city to be placed under martial law.

Yet our Left (including our president) wants us to abandon our ways and follow Europe's.

No thanks.

Note:  The gun violence statistics cited above were taken from this article by John Lott.