Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

By Jay - Ottawa

After a big, satisfying dinner exactly 100 years ago the publisher of the New York Times encountered a hungry man in the street. On that occasion the disparity between the two was recognized not just by the poor man but by the rich man as well, and thus was born the Times’ Neediest Fund. For all my irritation with the Times, I salute them for the Neediest Fund and hope that once great paper can bring such needs to the front page for another hundred years.

No philanthropist or charity can possibly meet all the needs of the poor in a nation of our size. However, the government of a big, rich country can come close to that goal -- when it makes the right choices. Today the richest people and their courtiers who run America have no intention of letting the government help its most needy. While neighbors starve in cold alleyways the elites continue to wear a warm smile and spend money, conspicuously, on their pets. (See Reuters photo, previous post.)

For Christians the Christmas story revolves – or should revolve -- around a child born in poor housing to parents barely scraping by. The growing discipleship of Ayn Rand will tell you that Mary and Joseph, like other irresponsible people of today, brought hardship down upon themselves by making poor life choices along the road to Bethlehem and Nazareth and Golgotha.

But why invest in biblical stories of dubious provenance? Moderns should trust in facts that are up-to-date and verifiable. Check reality with measures that stand up to scrutiny. Then chose to respond, somehow. Or not respond.

Thanks to a foreign newspaper I learned that the National Center for Homeless Families (NCHF) just published a report about homeless children in America. Here’s a Twitter-size executive summary: During the course of a calendar year a total of 1.6 million American children experience homelessness. That’s 1 in 45.

The NCHF has an interactive map that allows you to see the homeless child statistics for your state. Just possibly, in light of recent wheeling and dealing in Washington, the numbers will increase dramatically before next Christmas.

The number of homeless kids in my native New York is an embarrassment, despite all the efforts, public and private, to address the needs of poor children. Where does your state stand in the rankings?

There are many reasons to vote for or against certain candidates. I’m not a single-issue voter, but I, like others of you, will hold it hard against certain parties and candidates who have allowed that 1.6 million to suffer in the first place. Just about everything those same powers-that-be do lately tells us that the number of homeless children is sure to increase.

The end-of-year season puts us in mind to ask ourselves and each other, peaceably, how we are to conduct ourselves in the year ahead. By assenting once again to the lesser of two evils will we become increasingly bigger collaborators, despite what we say on the sidelines? To what measurable degree, if any, has the party of lesser evils slowed -- or hastened -- the progress of injustice, compared to the party "In opposition"? Is there a responsible Third Option?

(Ed. Note: In case you missed it, you can watch the excellent 60 Minutes report on homeless children here.)


Denis Neville said...


A powerful posting! And more so at Christmas time.

That there are any homeless kids in this country, when so few have so much wealth, is indeed an embarrassment.

“How unbearable at times are people who are happy, people for whom everything works out.” - Anton Chekhov

For All:

Two different Christmas stories…

At Christmas Time by Anton Chekov...

It has been years since the elderly Russian parents have heard from their dearly loved daughter. They received just two letters after her wedding before she vanished out of their lives. They haven't been able to write her because neither of them can write. At Christmas time, because she could no longer bear it, the elderly mother hires someone to write her daughter. She tries to dictate…putting all her love into a few words of Christmas greeting…

Pain is most pronounced at this time of the year for so many. It is at Christmas time that losses are most acute. When many others are missing those so dear to them, let us be grateful for the family members around us.

And a classic NPR holiday tradition…David Sedaris, as Crumpet the Elf, “On a busy day 22,000 people came to visit Santa, and I was told that it was the elf’s lot to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind.”

“I do like Christmas on the whole…in its clumsy way, it does approach peace and goodwill. But it is clumsier every year.” - E.M. Forster

Merry Christmas!

Charles D said...

Thanks for the link and the post, you have the true meaning of Christmas nailed here.

Is there a responsible third option? Not in our electoral system certainly. While there will be alternative parties on the ballot in some states, none have a chance. If we want to halt injustice, we have to first recognize that the system is broken and is unable to heal itself. At least then we can devote our time and resources toward an effort that has some chance of success.

Anne Lavoie said...

Christmas miracles do happen! The Wall Street Journal told Congress to jump and they said 'How high?'. Until then, nothing could make them budge. Could there be any more concrete and obvious evidence that Congress answers only to Wall Street?

What we need now is for the Wall Street Journal to order their obedient government slaves to do something for the country, like JOBS. Jobs that aren't war related, that is. War is the only jobs program they can and do support, wholeheartedly.

Let's hope for another miracle. God knows we need one right now.

John in Lafayette said...

I'm constantly amazed at the way the modern celebration of Christmas has strayed so far from the teachings of Jesus, but not being a Christian, I've also been hesitant to comment on it, as many people conflate condemnation of the behavior of Christians with condemnation of the teachings of Jesus.

The shrill screaming of the people who say there is a "war on Christmas" (WOC) being waged in America still goes on. These people insist that we "keep the Christ in Christmas," yet their behavior is very un-Christ-like, indeed. Unlike Jesus, these people will insist that the least among us are responsible for their own lot, and that the best thing we can do is to cut the governmental programs designed to help them in order to favor those who already have a great deal of wealth.

Ambrose Bierce defined "Rich" as: adj. Holding in trust and subject to an accounting the property of the indolent, the incompetent, the unthrifty, the envious and the luckless. That is the view that prevails in the underworld, where the Brotherhood of Man finds its most logical development and candid advocacy. To denizens of the midworld the word means good and wise.

Unlike Bierce, however, these latter-day deizens of the midworld find no irony in the definition. They have no understanding of their own Scripture; certainly they have forgotten - or chosen to ignore - the teachings of both Matthew 6 (the hypocrisy of public protestations of piety) and Matthew 19 (rich men, camels, and heaven).

The point was driven home to me rather forcefully the other day as I was watching television and an ad came on for WalMart. WalMart, you will recall, was a target of boycotts by the WOC people last year because they instructed their employees to say "happy holidays" rather than "merry Christmas" and because their advertisements promoted the "holidays" rather than Christmas. WalMart relented, and the company is not being targeted this year.

I thought of that as I saw the ad in which WalMart promises "the most Christmas for your money, guaranteed."

This, the WOC people do not find objectionable. This, apparently, is what it means to "keep the Christ in Christmas."

As Woody Allen once wrote, if Jesus were alive today, and saw all that was being done in his name, he would never stop throwing up.

Whatever your beliefs, I hope this finds everyone happy and well, and many thanks go to all of those voices - Christian and otherwise - that heed the admonitions of Jesus (and others) to care for the sick and the poor, and not just at Christmas.

James F Traynor said...

I don't like to think much about this, it angers me. Throughout the year I give a little here and there to a food bank, the Salvation Army and my wife's church, but I know it helps only a bit. Voting helps not at all. I'm beginning not to like this country, my country, and its people, my people, for allowing such conditions to exist to the extent they do.

Happy Winter Solstice!

4Runner said...

Since the subject of Jesus seems to have arisen on this day, I'd like to mention one of my favorite interpretations of the Christ story. It's laid out in a controversial 1965 book, "The Passover Plot". For me as a lifelong skeptic, it's history without fable. Check Wikipedia for an excellent exegesis.

Will said...

Merry Christmas, everyone. :)

Denis Neville said...

If Jesus were alive today…suffering children…

Reminds me of the famous chapter “Legend of The Grand Inquisistor” in Dostoevesky’s The Brothers Karamazov…

Ivan has been describing to Alyosha, his brother, in sadistic detail, the sufferings of innocent children. The agony of these children proves to Ivan the utter absurdity of a divinely created order of things; established only after suffering has been inflicted on the defenseless little victims of human brutality.

Not even Christ can make Ivan change his mind. Ivan's answer is the story of The Grand Inquisitor, which sets Christ against the church founded by him in the person of the Grand Inquisitor. To Ivan the Grand Inquisitor is right and Christ is wrong.

“Nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom,” says the Grand Inquisitor. “We promise that only when they renounce their freedom and submit to us will they be free.” The masses have no idea that, in abandoning their freedom of choice, they are abandoning their capacity to know, or choose, good from evil. The Grand Inquisitor defies Christ to contradict him.

“Feed men, and then ask of them virtue! That's what they'll write on the banner which they will raise against Thee,” said the Grand Inquisitor. And so they have from Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, et al.

Dostoevsky's Christ remains silent, and His only answer is to kiss the Grand Inquisitor on the lips.

Neil said...

Thanks for this post Jay, and for giving voice to the 1.6 million American children who were homelessness this year. And thanks for reminding us that the Christmas story is one of Jesus born homeless to working class parents. The life of Jesus centered on spiritual redemption, along with care of the sick, the poor, and the downtrodden, not to mention His own OWS move of kicking the money changers out of the Tempe. He was eventually executed by the state, by crucifixion. Resistance to TPTB is often dangerous.

Figures at the link you provided by the National Center on Family Homelessness show Vermont is ranked number one, best in the nation in addressing family homelessness. Vermont is also home to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, America’s only socialist senator. The three worst states, Alabama (50), Mississippi (49), and Arkansas (48), are all in the so-called Christian bible belt, along with other bottom feeders Louisiana (44), Florida (42) and Georgia (41).

The Ayn Rand mentality you noted fuels the corporate fascism that has embraced America and both major parties. For those who mistakenly believe that the Democrats and Obama are the lesser of two evils, they are evil nonetheless.

As for a Third Option, twenty years ago in the 1992 election Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate and received almost 19 percent of the popular vote, some 19,743,821 votes, but not a single Electoral College vote. As we all know from Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), the Electoral College elects the president, not the American people.

In his 1992 campaign, Ross Perot was opposed to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Perot warned of the "giant sucking sound" of jobs leaving America if NAFTA became law. The corporate fascist loved NAFTA, and promised any jobs lost would be replaced, and then some, by increased demand for high-value American products like computers, jobs that paid higher wages than the jobs lost. Turns out Ross Perot was right. Apparently high-value American products can be made elsewhere, like in China, by cheap labor, and with less environmental regulations or worker protections.

Anyone recall Perot’s 1993 debate with Vice President Al Gore on Larry King over NAFTA? see The year NAFTA was ratified America had a $1 billion trade surplus with Mexico. In 2010 America's trade deficit with Mexico was $66 billion.

How long will Americans believe in voodoo economics, or think their vote matters?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Valerie said...

Stellar post, Jay. Very thought provoking. As a progressive Christian I am very disturbed by the whole materialistic, self-righteousness, entitled attitude of the mainstream Christian paradigm. It is amazing to me that people who claim to read the bible and take it literally manage to completely miss the teachings of Jesus and the message of those teachings. As you and other commenters have pointed out, Jesus, above all, and was very anti-establishment, anti-status quo and an advocate for the disenfranchised.

Several years back while I was teaching in Berlin a small group of parents started pressuring me to have more "Christmas spirit" in my classroom. With Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews as well as Christians in my class, I decided to do a compare/contrast of all these major religions and call it a social studies project. It turned out to be a great learning experience for all of us. Sadly, Christians and Christmas came out looking the worst. Our major religious holidays, Christmas and Easter,didn't seem to inspire introspection but instead had been hijacked by consumerism. Our symbols of Christmas were pagan and the real message of Christmas - that the Messiah didn't come as a wealthy, entitled member of the "upper class" but instead came as a humble "working poor" member of society was completely lost.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Thanks, all. A tardy Happy Chanukah, a timely Merry Christmas and an all around Happy Holiday Season to the rest of you at Karen's Salon.

Back to The Great Class War....

Don't miss the link Karen provided to the "60 Minutes" report. I just viewed it, then read a page from the more than one hundred comments that followed. Several comments boil down to offers of concrete help to people in the report by frontline individuals, church groups or secular organizations. And how about the old couple in the report who took in the family from across the street?

Odd that the inclination to reach out and lend help fades into nothing as one goes up the line to office holders at Congressional or Administrative levels. How many of these august figures view public service, not as an end, but as a means?

Instead of throwing the whole lot out of office or forcing term limits, let's send one more amendment into the gauntlet of the approval process.

"Any elected official who improves his/her financial worth by more than 25% in the preceding four years is thereby disqualified from future public office."

Because they're spending far too much time feathering their own nests instead of looking after the public's business, such as fostering a new generation that is, with rare exception, well-housed, well-fed and well-educated.

I believe it was Jimmy Cagney, playing some streetwise SOB, who said: "The higher up you go, the lower grade the people you meet."

Fred Drumlevitch said...

I'm a bit tardy in commenting, and many others here have already made so many relevant points from a variety of perspectives and with great eloquence, but I do want to add "Great post, Jay".

When I think of the diverse ways that this society is failing so many of its members, as well as the society as a whole, I find myself unsure of how I would rank these various failures. Which is worse: That children are homeless? That U.S. infant mortality surpasses a large number of other countries? That many people are unable to afford basic medical care, yet the Medicaid rolls are being significantly cut in many states? That the elderly have had to put up with a Medicare medication "doughnut hole" that could have been completely eliminated for a few billion dollars? That families are still being evicted from their homes, while bankers are receiving bonuses? ...

Ultimately, I'm not sure that I can rank them; all are past the threshold of inexcusable. But childhood homelessness probably does deserve a special call-out for its existence at a time of year when crass commercialism aimed at children runs rampant, when adults make their annual pilgrimages to nativity scenes, and when a military budget of over $650 billion was just recently approved. The hypocrisy rampant in this country is stunning.

Kat said...

I'm late to the party, but thanks for writing this Jay. My state is #10. It is no surprise to me because it seems like every day in my local paper there is a story of child poverty on the rise. There are also many stories about churches coming together for their communities-- many are stretched quite thin already. I believe my conservative (not that there is any meaning to the word "conservative" anymore) would like to use this as proof that the government doesn't need to step in, but I don't see how this hodgepodge of charities can hold back this tsunami of need much longer.