Sunday, December 31, 2006

Can Someone Explain This, Again?

I mean, really:
"Many difficult choices and further sacrifices lie ahead," he said in a statement released late Friday from his Texas ranch. "Yet the safety and security of the American people require that we not relent in ensuring that Iraq's young democracy continues to progress."

The not-very-clever allusion to the "Flypaper Theory" (so ineloquently phrased as "We're fightin' them thar so's we don't have to fight them hyar.") has been disproven each and every year since we invaded Iraq, and 2006 proved to be no different. More people in more places around the world have died at the hands of terrorists each and every year since we invaded Iraq. Period.

And the cowards on the right will tell you that it doesn't matter, because you know, Osama hasn't hit us here at home. And that's true enough, but let's look at a few facts about that, shall we?

1) The people of Madrid, Bali, London, the Phillipines, Amman, Jordan and other places would be hard pressed to agree that the Flypaper Theory works. We ought to take into consideration that these are our allies and not just some nameless nations that we could give a rat's ass about, like Libya.

2) It hasn't stopped Osama and other terror organizations from trying. Yes, we've thwarted several attacks, apparently, but President Clinton stopped no less than 16 (including attacks that were to be carried out against our allies) before Al Qaeda finally exploited a weak spot: the inattentiveness of the current Repubican president, and his flunkies. After the much-vilified Clinton had left office.

3) In addition to attracting Al Qaeda's attention, we've now had to contend with the formation of Hizbollah and Hamas terror cells within our borders, as indicated by Iran and Palestinian extremist statements. Make no mistake: terror does not have to be a democratic process. It merely takes one nut with a bomb.

4) Terror attacks by Americans on other Americans is on the rise as well. But you don't read about the white guy who drives his car into an abortion clinic. Or shoots Latinos.

With all this going against him, why is Bush saying this, still?

Better question: why are we letting him and why are we letting our "media" get away with letting him skate this by us?


I was beginning to think being a Rangers fan meant watching the team swing slowly in the breeze like a South Asian dictator...

Petr Prucha contributed two goals in a 4-1 win over the Capitals in an entertaining, hard-hitting game that featured a lot of body work, and eventually some chippy play. The Rangers and Caps tangled in four fights (Washington's Donald Brashear was the protagnist for two and a half, more on that in a bit), and Henrik Lundqvist lost his bid for a shutout in the last ticks of the clock as Ben Clymer snuck in behind the D Feydor Tutin and snapped a shot off Lundqvist's glove.

The game saw the Rangers' seven game losing streak and 153 minute scoring drought snapped, while the Caps, hampered by injuries and sickness, recorded their fourth consecutive loss.

Brendan Shanahan proved once more he's trying to pick up where Mark Messier left off, taking the team by the reins and driving them. After Brashear goaded captain Jaromir Jagr into a dumb penalty in the third (which eventually saw the Rangers stymie a 5-3 power play), Shanahan made a point of being on the ice for Brashear's first shift after the penalty kill and dropped gloves (and helmet!) right at the face-off. Although Brashear won on points, landing a few overhand lefts, Shanahan ducked the initial onslaught by slipping to his left, and scored some nasty uppercuts, finally falling to his knees.

After the official separated the two warriors, Adam Ward mouthed off to Brashear who was skating towards the visitors lockerroom. Brashear decked Ward with two lefts to his mush, and received a gamer.

Later, Colton Orr did the payback deed, cross-checking Caps star Alexander Ovechkin on the chin. Both cheap shots, Brashear's and Orr's, will likely get reviewed in Toronto. I expect fines.

For the first time in eight games, the Rangers didn't hesitate, and kept driving towards the net. In a division where a four game winning streak (The Devils lead by five points, with two game in hand) would put them back in first place, this was a welcome sight.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

I'm Surprised This Is Even An Issue

From Reuters:
Networks face quandary over Saddam execution

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the world awaited word of Saddam Hussein's fate, U.S. television news executives faced a quandary over whether to break a taboo against airing footage of executions should video of his hanging become available.

As of Friday evening, two major broadcast networks -- ABC and NBC -- as well as cable news outlets CNN and Fox News Channel -- said they would wait to see what images of Saddam's execution, if any, surface before deciding whether and how to use them.

All said they would break into regular programming with special coverage when they confirmed the former Iraqi leader was dead, although none contemplated any live pictures from the hanging.

CBS appeared to be the most reluctant of the networks to take the unprecedented step of broadcasting video footage of an execution on television in the United States, a country where 53 people were put to death in 2006 alone.
We're a bloodthirsty nation! Just look at our censorship codes: godforbid a woman's nipples be seen on network television, but when it comes to violence? Well, I'll let an expert speak to that:
Because ours is a puritanically-based society and we have problems with depictions of sex, we tend to eroticize violence.

For many people this creates an unfortunate, often even unconscious, link between sex and violence.
In the course of a year, the average person will see roughly 10,000 acts of violence and 2,000 simulated deaths. That's a LOT of sex.

To glorify and eroticise violence does no one any good, so I say, let's show what really happens when a man dies. Let's see him piss his pants, and his cock get erect. Let's see the stool slip down from his pantsleg, making a grimy greasy puddle on the floor, because you know what? In all the years I've watched violence on television, real and simulated, from hockey fights to bad soap operas, and in all the years I've fought and been fought with, I've never seen any TV program do justice to the horrors of violence (occasionally, a hockey broadcast will inadvertently linger over a bloody injury). I've yet to see a camera follow a victim of a beating, through the vomiting and dizziness, and the glazed look in his eye as he tries to find an escape from more violence, until he passes out, and then the sickening crunch of bone on flesh or worse, wood or metal on flesh.

Maybe it's time we as a society grew up a little and honestly dealt with how a person dies when the state kills him. How a man can lie on a gurney for 34 minutes while a "lethal injection" makes its way through his body, wracking him with pain that doesn't end.

Some would say "He deserved it," but many of those people are the same people who ducked out on fighting in war, who have never seen how a person dies. I can guarantee you that most of those folks would change their minds if they saw even one person die violently.

So let the American people see what they're substituting for sex. Maybe then, finally, we can put down our torches and axes and move forward and join civilization.

For another point of view on this, please read Lydia Cornell's article, "Death Is Sexier Than Sex (To Ann Coulter)"

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Perfect Together

The death penalty belongs in nations that are savage, uncivilized and unenlightened. While the death of any man diminishes me, the law is the law, and Iraq has done what it felt it had to do.

May Allah have mercy on their souls. And ours.

By the way, the next time some right winger claims that Libya is so intimidated by us that they're now working with us, remind him that Libya declared a three-day national period of mourning for Saddam...

Friday Music Blogging

ZZ Top - Give Me All Your Lovin'

Appropriate for the last Friday of the year...

Friday Kitten Blogging

I was in a bit of a rush....

The Year In The Rear View Mirror

When a year starts out with a visit to the cardiologist, you know it's not going to be a good one. Despite that, and despite the subsequent health issues, 2006 turned out to be a pretty good year.

Of course, I am concerned about my health, but setting that aside for the moment: I met a lot of nice people this year, many of whom I've grown close friends with. By "met", I mean on-line, but also in person. Early on in the year, I shed some baggage that needed to be pruned away last year, but once I did, the world opened its arms wide to me.

I'm proud that friends whom I had coming into 2006 have remained friends and many have become closer, while enemies that I've had have been pushed further away. I lived, I laughed, and I even loved. When you sum up a year that way, it can't get much better, especially as I look around me at a deteriorating world, personally and on a more generic note.

They say that time heals, but it also decays, and that was brought home to me this year in many different forms. The moving hand writes, and having writ, moves on. The ink dries, then fades.

The worst loss of the year for me, besides a few precious hairs, was my cat. I was there for that last moment, when he looked up into my eyes, his filled with fear and panic as he could no longer gasp for air, walked in a small circle, collapsed and died (yes, he really did circle himself). I don't remember that I ever let out a noise the kind that I did that Sunday morning, as I knelt by his lifeless body. To this day, the tears flow freely. I had to walk away to get a glass of water to type on.

As life takes, it gives, and I am blessed with ThumbPer. He is a joy, a lively kitten who promises to grow up to be the best cat I've ever been owned by. He has these quirky little habits, like riding on my shoulder when I walk thru the apartment, or jumping up on the sink anytime anyone goes to the bathroom, to play with the faucet (I swear, he looks like he's trying to figure out how to turn the water on!).

Other good things this year: This blog is one. In September, just past my one year anniversary of blogging, I had my 50,000th visitor. I project my 100,000th within the next eight (five...Crooks and Liars linked to me again) weeks, maybe sooner. I find that the quality of my writing has improved with the daily discipline of posting here, and analysing the strange and important stories that I come across each morning. Hell, I even got off my duff and wrote a book (I may turn that into a full-fledged novel in time for next Christmas).

My Mets finally made it to the playoffs after six brutal years of frustration and incompetence. They could have and should have done better, but it is what it is. I don't really follow American football, but nominally I'm a Jets fan, so I can take a small sliver of pride in them, too. My Rangers made it to the playoffs this year after ten long years of looking thru the plate glass window. Arsenal made it to the European Club Champions League championship game, and lost a heartbreaker to Barcelona.

Politically, it could not have been a better year for me. I endorsed seven candidates, and six won (excluding Ned Lamont, but that was an early endorsement, and who'd have figured he muck up THAT campaign so badly?). My blog was picked up by three candidates.

Which brings me to another good thing: the syndication of the Actor212 Information and Entertainment network (you'll find the links on the right). I'm pleased that I am now read internationally on college campuses as far away as Sydney, Australia, and as close by as Greenwich Village, and in newspapers across the country. Just another wholly-owned subsidiary of Actor212 Enterprises (a Cayman Islands corporation).

A door closes and a window opens, you see. I owe many thanks to so many people; most important are you, my readers. To Katrina, my able-bodied assistant and sometime psychotherapist, I owe a very deep debt of gratitude for pinning my arm behind my back and pushing me down this path. Her angels have watched over me, and I thank her. To Miss Cellania, for our link exchanges and general spirits-keeping-up when things look bleak. To Blogenfreude, for keeping me laughing, both at his various blogs, and in e-mails. To Mr. Doggity, who always has a thought that makes me think even harder. He's kept me in line when I've tempted to slip into moonbat lunacy.

To everyone on my blogroll who has reciprocated with a link back, I thank you all, but in particular to Mike over at Mike's Blog Round-Up at Crooks and Liars, who has linked to me more times than Jones has sausages, to the Chief Bottle Washer of Blogtopia (and yes! He coined that phrase!), Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (he of The Daily Show fame), who put up with a lot from me, and Lydia Cornell, with whom I've developed a good friendship, and who also has her hands full with me. Oh...and the gangs over at Martini Republic and its sister blog, Big Apple Martini, including Tristam Shandy, who has to put up with my nonsensical commentary as well.

Oh, and I nearly forgot...I conned Targa into blogging! And since I'm picking on people who comment here, let me add my thanks to Jacq and one of my newest regulars, Susan (who, if she blogged, would get linked in a heartbeat!). And NOI. And CathCatz...and Gnu.

2007 promises to be another year of some ecstatic highs and some deep lows, but I must recharge my batteries, so I will be taking some time off next week, and spending it on the island of Bermuda. The weather promises to be quite lovely, near 70 every day, and I'll be staying at a spa. Nothing will whip asthma like a long sauna (that's pronounced "sow-na" (as in the female pig), not "saw-na"...if you're going to speak Finnish, speak it properly, dammit!) followed by a dip in a pool. It won't be a hole cut in the ice, to be sure, but it will help. I will be blogging from the hotel, so you won't miss much, and I'll be bring a camera and a vidcam, so I'll share my trip, catch as catch can.

This is not my last column for 2006, but I suspect it may be the last time some of you are near a computer. Don't drink and drive, please stay safe, and please enjoy and have a Happy New Year.

And thank you. Again. I'll probably update this post throughout the day because I'm sure the second I hit "enter", I'll remember something I thought about saying last night. :-)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish!

And not in a good funny way:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - With their icy Arctic habitat melting, polar bears need new protections under the Endangered Species Act, Bush administration officials said on Wednesday in a decision that raised questions about the president's skeptical stance on global warming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the bears, a white-furred icon of the North, be listed as "threatened" under the act. Such a listing would force government agencies to ensure they take no action that jeopardizes the animal's existence.

That in turn could pressure the government to consider tougher measures to clean up the air because most scientists believe carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming. Bush administration officials, however, indicated there would be no new curbs on oil drilling in Alaska or limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Yea, there's a real effort to save the polar bear: list it as threatened, but do nothing to remove the threat.

Look, the polar bear is doomed. There are only 25,000 left in the world, and their habitat is diminishing each day. The expedited melting of the polar ice cap, coupled with the total disappearance of the summertime snow pack in the arctic, has made life impossible (unbearable?) for the polar bear. Polar bears drown regularly now, a phenomenon unheard of even a decade ago.

Some of the more idiotic reactions:
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said an endangered species listing could not be used to trigger new limits to greenhouse-gas emissions:"That whole argument of climate change is beyond the scope of the Endangered Species Act."

"All of the 30 years of experience that we've had on the North Slope has proven to us that the oil industry has no impact," said Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
D-huh? First they tell us, in response to concerns about global warming, that you can't measure its impact in a human lifetime, and now they're saying there cannot have been any impact in our lifetimes?

Meaning they "have measured it" and found no effect? Who the fuck are they kidding?

Worse still than the melting ice pack drowning bears is that their cubs cannot survive even the milder winters, ironically, because the parents can't catch enough food to feed them sufficiently to build fat deposits. Polar bears feed by using the ice pack as a diving board to catch prey swimming under the ice.

Global warming is a fact. It's been called the single biggest threat to human existence (by a conservative television network, no less! The History Channel), and it's happening. Right now. We see the evidence all around us, and scientific studies have verified our anecdotal observations: the planet is getting warmer, and it is due to man's intervention.

As someone from the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out this morning, the polar bear is really the "canary in the coal mine" because an animal this high on the food chain dying off means it could happen to us, too.

We can't wait any longer. This threat is far more important than even a terrorist attack, because this is imminent, nation-- hell, worldwide, and affects even those high falutin' elitist neo-cons and their orc minions who will die right alongside those of us doing the fighting.

Write your Congressman and Senators, ESPECIALLY if he or she is a Republican! Write to the White House. Let them know what you feel and how you don't want to see this happen.

And for your own peace of mind, start helping out on your own: invest in alternative energy sources. Ask your energy dealer to switch you to renewable, non-polluting sources like wind and hydroelectric. Drive slower and more carefully and use less gas.

And for God's sake, spend a few bucks and buy your carbon footprint back for Mother Earth! She's given you so much for free...estimates are that if mankind had to produce the raw material and energy sources, even the drinking water and air, that nature provides to us for free, it would cost us $63 TRILLION annually. That's twice the combined gross domestic product of each and every single nation on the planet!

Imagine THAT income tax bill when it comes due!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Monty Python Explains How Congress Works. John Cleese for the Republicans, Michael Palin for the Democrats

Decent Men And Politics

By now, you've had a cup of coffee and heard the news that the Accidental President, Gerald Ford, died last night.

I'm not going to eulogize him. You can go watch the Today Show or any number of other media outlets for that crap. I will say one thing about the man: I believe he was a decent, honest soul.

And that intrigued me. Thrust into the limelight with no foreshadowing, he dealt with his abbreviated term as best as he could. He made decisions that one can look at and follow his principle and logic behind, and was willing to pay a price for them (and he did).

There aren't many men about whom you can say that, but of course, Ford never had to run to be President, as he was appointed and then succeeded his way to the Oval Office. You might say he fell upstairs...

Naturally, many of his decisions stuck in the craw of liberals nationwide, most notably his decisions to pardon Richard Nixon and to tell New York City to drop dead in the midst of its financial nightmare.

He could have taken the easy way out on both decisions: asked the Senate for political cover on pardoning Nixon, or delay and deflect the attention from NYC's crisis until he could get a better handle on it. But he didn't.

Other than Jimmy Carter, it's hard to think of a President in the last fifty years who was more guided by his inner voice and own conscience than Gerald Ford. Maybe Bill Clinton approaches him, but even there, you see a man who spun desperately to retain as much personal power as possible in the course of the onslaught of Republicans hatchet jobs on his two terms in office.

So the question has to be asked: can a man like Ford or Carter ever run and win the Presidency, or are they too nice, too good-hearted, and not...flexible...enough (read that as "corruptible") to run a national campaign?

This is important, because I think the times we live in, twelve years of national scandal emanating from the highest office in the land, and nearly thirty years of controversial, politically motivated, corporate-backed, focus-grouped decision making, has created a circumstance that cries out for one who is his "own man". The country needs to get its feet back under itself.

I'm not sure. Certainly the prevailing national mood after Nixon's resignation was deep disillusionment with politics and politicians, and our current pResident has taken great pains to mask this national mood, stopping its progression from malaise to depression (with a small "d," but soon to be a big "D" in my opinion), but there's a sense in this nation that the disilluionment remains just below the surface. The last election proved that people are angry, that people want change, and that people want accountability. Woe betide the Democrats should they screw with that!

The rah-rah ralliers of the right wing war wankers are all that stand between this country and outright rebellion of a sort, and that facade cracks a little more each day. To assume the mantle of patriotism in order to remain part of the family does not a patriot make, particularly when patriotism is indeed to stand foursquare against your government and for the law of the land.

Until we as a people can come out of hiding as our "own men (and women)," I think we will not see a decent man (or woman) be elected President. But once we as a people get the gumption to insist on the best, and not buy the packaged wholesale fraudulence of the Republican party's candidates and the complicit spin machinery (and the Democrats, albeit to a far lesser degree), we will never truly be free again.

It may take each of us to stand up and be counted to have a government that we deserve. That is true patriotism, to own a stake in the country that you live in, and not ignore what is going on around you.

So could a man like Barack Obama, or Michael Bloomberg (to give the devils their due, altho Bloomberg was until 2001 a Democrat himself) run and win the Presidency? Time and tides and fortune will tell.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day Music Blogging

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Ignore It...

....avian flu is making a comeback:
Dec. 25 - A 15-year-old girl is the second person to die in a bird flu outbreak in northern Egypt.

The girl was admitted to a hospital on Dec. 20 after being diagnosed with the disease, the official Middle East News Agency quoted an Egyptian Health Ministry statement as saying.
It had been so quiet on the avian flu front that many people had basically chalked it up as yet another health scare that went bust.

Trouble is, pandemics are like terrorists: they can lie in wait until an appropriate time, and catch a people off-guard.

Africa has joined Asia as a "ground zero" spot for avian flu outbreaks, specifically Nigeria and now Egypt, which along with these two reported deaths has a third confirmed case. Vietnam has once more announced a wholesale slaughter of domestic birds, while South Korea announced a fourth confirmed case in December alone.

Europe is starting to see signs of an outbreak, as Moscow closed its zoo after two geese were found dead, and in France, 4,000 chickens were found dead, although avian flu is not suspected, it is being tested for, all in the wake of an announcement that France's foie gras industry had a record year.

What's most scary about the African hot spot is the population densities of the affected areas, Egypt and Lagos, Nigeria, are far greater than the sparse rural areas affected in Asia. Influenza "A" type viruses are very aggressive, highly infectious and infectious days longer than the mammalian type "B" viruses.

And flu season is just getting underway.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter One

"Barb! It's twenty minutes to air! I want to see the final edits now, dammit!"

"Ed, we've worked together for ten years. Have I ever failed you?" Barbara Croce purred back. For ten years, she had been producer of the wildly successful, for cable, at any rate, Ed Hughes Show, a nightly roundup of news and opinion on NewsNet, a facet of a global media conglomerate with a simple agenda: tell the story our way, damn the facts.

"Barb! I need to make sure my commentary syncs up with the vid! Don't make me remind you about Juan!"

Ed referred to an incident three years ago when Hurricane Juan hit Halifax. Although it did significant damage to trees and property, and although it killed only four people, Ed had claimed it was barely a tropical storm, even though the video showed winds whipping signs and trees around.

Barb muttered under her breath. While Ed Hughes was an impossible man to work with, and NewsNet was a network mentioned only with a subvocal chortle by her peers, Barb was proud of how she had taken the Hughes Show and turned it into a cultural icon. She wasn't proud of how she had to do it, though, and always felt karma had been at play in the birth of her youngest, Tim.

"NOW, Barbara! NOW!"

Barbara ran into the make-up room, and popped the data disk into the always-on computer, so Ed could watch. He mouthed his copy as he stared into the screen, pausing occasionally to mark a word for emphasis or check if he had made the appropriate change. She stood with her back to the wall, her ample figure visible in his line of sight in the mirror.

He glanced up, "So? A winner tonight?"

Barb smiled back, and said "Of course, Ed. Always. Listen, if you don't mind, I'd like to leave a little early tonight. It's Christmas Eve and all, and I'd like to spend some time with Timmy and the family."

Ed's expression was easy to read. "No, Barb! This is the most important show of the season! Millions of people will be watching my final piece on the war on Christmas! How that airport in Washington state took down their Christmas trees rather than put up a menorah!"

"But it's Christmas, Ed! C'mon, even YOU have to stop working once in a while!"

Ed Hughes glared at her over his half-glasses, adjusted them on his nose, and said, "No, but I tell you what: you can leave right after the last commercial break."

"But that's at 9:5-"

"Final offer, Barb."

"You are the single stingiest bastard in the world!"

"OK! Enough! 9:30, take it or leave it!"

Barbara Croce gathered up her will. She really wanted to walk out, but to give up this job at this time, and let Ed Hughes get a head start on smearing her in the business before she could draft her resume..."Very well, Ed."

She turned and stormed out, tears lingering on her cheeks like strands of liquid spaghetti on a fine porcelain doll.

"Five minutes to air, Mr. Hughes."

Ed turned back to the mirror, stared into it, and grinned. He won. He always won, because he didn't care about the price of winning, only about the price of losing. It was how he got this job after Jack Marley died, ten years ago. He stepped on every toe, crushed every finger, smashed every head he had to so he could get the 9PM slot. He wanted it desperately. He wanted to be The Man.

To Chapter Two

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Two

Ed stretched as the commercial break started and the lights dimmed slightly. He was on a roll, roaring about Christmas trees and the sanctity of Christ's birth and how holy this time of the year was.

He didn't say it, but he left an inference that it was all the Jews fault for making up Hanukkah, and then the Muslims came up with Ramadan, and the blacks had Kwanzaa...he hated anything that didn't smack of pure Christian thought and belief.

He glanced over at Barbara, who was studying her clipboard and jotting down segment air times for archiving later. She was gorgeous. A great body, luscious lips, and a face that he pictured many times under his shower head, as he peered down at her, her ebony face bobbing up and down on his knob. Too bad she was happily married, not that he hadn't come up with a plan for that.

It was her kid, Timmy, that was the real obstacle. Timmy was born when Barbara was still struggling to get a handle on this job. NewsNet, as a fledgling network, had hired her out of a halfway house for women coming off welfare. She fought her way up the ladder as promotions came fast and furious in the first years, people leaving because, well, it was NewsNet and you couldn't have that scum staining your skin for too long.

Subsequently, because she was making a bare minimum wage when he was born, the doctors really didn't pay much attention to him. She couldn't afford the insurance premiums at NewsNet, and her Medicaid had been cut off when she started working. Timmy had a degenerative spinal condition that required draining weekly. He'd never grow tall and handsome like she'd hoped he would and needed constant attention.

Her husband had been a saint about it when they first met, and it was for this reason she gladly married him after a year. Between the two of them, they made enough to afford some of the things Timmy needed, but never enough of what he would truly need: time with him, and comfort.

Sadly, even this latest job, with its glittering title and high profile, was still underpaid by a lot, and try living in the city! But they had to, for her job but also for Timmy. The commute to the doctors would have killed him.

Ed briefly imagined what it would be like if Timmy had died, would he be able to make his move, but this ashamed even his jaded appetites, so he quickly rearranged his papers and began to focus on the next story, the recap of the year.

Family values, dammit! That's what sold his radio program. He spent many years out in the wilderness, just one of the pack of talking heads, railing on about this politician, that corrupt program, but once the Clinton/Lewinski affair took full bloom, his career began its upward arc. It was much more fun to gossip and slander, and it made for better television. Too, it allowed Hughes to bring the token defender of Clinton onto his show, and shut him up as a "soft-headed liberal."

His audience got the vicarious thrill of telling a tree hugger to stop preaching and leave them and America alone! And ever since then, any scandal that could in anyway be tied to the "liberal agenda"-- gay marriage, abortion, husband killing wife, woman abandoning her children-- he would take a potshot at liberals. Family values was his ticket.

He ought to know about family values, too. "I raised two sets of kids and one stepson in my three marriages! I know what holds a family together!" As they were coming out of break, he found an item to pin the recap segment on, and scribbled a few last minute notes. He knew Barb would be furious, but fuck her. That's what she gets for spurning him ten years ago.

"And now, the year in review. And what a year its been. If I told you that a Congressman's inability to keep from liberal temptation would change the entire course of the nation, you'd never believe me, and yet, that's precisely what Mark Foley's weakness has done..."

Ed droned on through his copy, but there was a spark in the back of his mind that caught a piece of a fleeting memory and began kindling his neurons. Christmas. Tonight was Christmas Eve. He'd go home, put on his robe, sit down in front of the television with a glass of whiskey, and relax in the blissful comfort of solitude. He didn't need anyone around him to have a good time. All he needed was a good book and some scotch, and he'd be fine. But it wasn't always like this. When Jack Marley was alive, he and Ed would hit the town any night, even Christmas Eve, and manage to find a party, where some bimbo would give it up.

Hell, it was how he met his third wife, and he's still paying child support to prove it!

"...finally, no review of 2006 would be complete without a look at the situation in Iraq. Folks, we're not far from winning this war. Yes, the insurgency is still active, but this is merely people who have had no power for decades jockeying for position to divvy up the spoils of their oil fields once those become active again! We shouldn't abandon the root cause of trying to bring democracy to a people who so richly deserve it after all we've done to them. I mean, for them."

Where the hell did THAT come from?

To Chapter Three

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Three

Ed Hughes had trained himself to put gaffes out of his mind quickly. On TV, particularly on a talk show where you were the man, if you dwelled on a mistake, you could be guaranteed to make many more. If it was big enough, he'd correct it the next night, but this wasn't big enough.

"So there you have it folks! 2006...a year of change, a year of signposts, a year that we saw the further erosion of our traditional America values. Next up, our final segment: how did we do fighting the War On Christmas against the heathens and pagans and liberals who want to take it from us and turn it into a secular holiday."

Ed turned slightly sideways in his chair as the red light darkened, and sipped some water quickly. The show was going well, and Ed was keeping his cool. The interview with the Father Tom of his hometown church went well, allowing the Father the chance to remind people about Jesus' birth and what it means to us all, the sacrifices Jesus made for His people, and the love we should all have for our fellow men. Hughes even managed to slip a few jabs in at liberals, talking about how they wanted the rest of us to "give unto Caesar" when they couldn't give unto God.

Father Tom almost seemed to bridle at that. I guess he hadn't been warned that Ed would do something like that. Always about getting a leg up on his competition and using liberals as building blocks. Nonplussed, Ed explained that he was talking about the all-but-certain tax hikes he felt were coming in the new Congress, but how gay marriage and stem cells would be featured as well.

Father Tom sat stone silent as Hughes began to warm up for his blistering opinion segment at the end of the show. When Hughes was finished railing, Father Tom spoke of Jesus' love for ALL His people, and that HIs sacrifice was made to save us all.

Hughes was writing notes. He had some ideas for the last segment, and then moved onto the next question for the Father. He caught Barb's eye at that pointed and winked at her. He could see Barb putting on her coat, her full breasts yearning to break free of their confinement and find their way to Ed's tender touch. He shook his head to clear the image. Must be a particularly full moon tonight, he chuckled to himself, they look rather swollen.

The stage crew was scurrying back to places. Ed had his monologue ready. A few more minutes, and Ed would be done for the night. Barb had waved goodnight during the break after Father Tom's segment. He was hoping he could convince her to let him buy her a drink this evening to celebrate Christmas. Maybe two. Maybe he'd slip her some of that special potion he had gotten from a friend. He could always put her in a cab afterwards. Timmy was probably asleep by now anyway.

"Finally, as the clock ticks towards Christmas Day, we should take a moment and reflect on precisely what this holiday means. Christmas isn't about commercialization, or how many presents you get or give. It's about remembering the birth of Our Lord. As such, the holiday should remain sacrosanct. It should never be used as a 'me-too' excuse by the politically-correct left and minority religions in this country who feel slighted by the sight of a tree with ornaments on it, or a creche with the baby Jesus in it. I'm frankly tired of celebrating 'diversity,' which is code for 'I'm better than you.' I'd much rather see the United States unite rather than divvy itself up into shards and pockets of people. We may be Jews or Irish or black, but underneath it all, we're Americans, and we should act that way..."

A strange ringing began in Ed's ear.

To Chapter Four

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Four

"...And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom..."

Ed stared into the camera, trying to focus on the teleprompter and not the fact that SOME ASSHOLE WAS PLAYING HIS GODDAM MUSIC TOO LOUD somewhere in the studio! Frikkin' idiots KNOW that "ON AIR" means SILENCE!

"For we are all Americans, and all of us have always had the blessings of this great nation, founded under God. We are supposed to be identifying ourselves with that, and not by what country we come from or what religion we practice...and to hell with them that try to bring their culture here, with their foreign languages and their customs that don't fit in Christian society..."

The studio seemed to, it black.

"Hullo? Hullo? Am I still on? Barb? Anyone?"

"Hello, Ed..." a whispered voice floated across from behind the camera. A pinpoint of light began to glow and enlarge. It was a man, older, frailer than Ed, with white hair and an immistakable grimace on his face, like his teeth constantly hurt.

"Jack? Jack...Marley?" Ed Hughes was stunned by the site of his friend and predecessor standing in front of him.

Well, not standing. More like floating. And not in front of him, but all around him, even if most of him seemed to be facing Ed.

"I don't have much time, Ed, so let me never were much of one to follow tradition, were you? I see you've totally changed my set! Anyway, I've been sent with a message for you."

"From whom? Jack, what are you doing here? Am I dreaming? Who the hell slipped mesca--"

"QUIET! Now...let's just say that you've been brought to a certain someone's will be visited this evening by three ghosts, who will try to right your ways for you. I suggest you listen to them, carefully. I didn't, and look what happened to me."

Ed scanned Jack's body. He seemed to be OK. Well, for a dead guy at any rate. Nothing too bad.

Then Jack slowly turned away from Ed. All around himself, Ed saw the marks...slashes and cuts and stab wounds.

"Ed...they stuck me in...well, nevermind that. Let's just say they have unique ways of making you see the light. I have to go now. Remember...three ghosts..."

And with that, Jack collapsed into a singularity, which disappeared, taking the air with it.

Ed was in pitch black again, until he heard hissing "Ed! The script!"

He had been sitting there, silent, as if he'd had an ischemic attack, staring into the camera for ten seconds, according to the clock. And TV hates dead air.

Scanning the teleprompter, he found a spot that sounded familiar:" Into Christian society...we must be eternally vigilant, but for one more year at least, the war on Christmas has ended in victory for America. This is Ed Hughes saying good night, God bless, and merry, merry Christmas."

The studio went dark again, silent, punctuated by "And we're out!" and the shuffling of feet.

To Chapter Five

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Five

Ed stumbled more than walked to his dressing room. He felt beat up. The sight of Jack Marley was enough to make this cocky self-sure man lose his grip on enough reality to doubt where he was and what he was doing. Shakily, he leaned into the wall with his hand to steady himself as he wandered down the hall.

Closing the door behind himself, Ed hurriedly slipped out of the jacket and, more important, the tie he wore tonight. He sat down heavily, and took a deep inhale, and held it for a count of five, then slowly exhaled.

There. Much better. It must have been an hallucination. That's the only possible explanation. Yes. He'd been working too hard. When other hosts were already off, for Hanukkah or because their kids were on break, he'd worked right up to Christmas. Overworked and stressed. That must be it. Maybe he was coming down with something, too.

He slowly rose out of his chair, and stepped across to the small chest of drawers opposite the mirror. On top was a bottle of scotch. He took a paper cup and poured out a small amount. And then a little more. And then filled the cup. He gulped it down in two mouthfuls, then collapsed again into his chair. His big comfy chair. And drifted off to sleep...when he felt the cup being taken out of his hand, and crumpled up.

"Barb? Is that you?" Ed struggled to clear his eyes, bleary with the tiredness. When he looked up, he saw a nattily dressed young man, with bright red hair, and a tam.

"My name is Ian. Jack told ye to expect me, didn't he? Well, here I am, but let's see where ye've been shall we? Now don't be afraid! Yer a good little shaver, I wager." And with that, and a click of his heels, the room dissolved away.

Little Eddie Hughes rode his Huffy bicycle up and down Doral Court in Levittown, a new development in suburban Long Island, racing past the row of cookie-cutter houses that seemed to spring up and multiply overnight. It was nearly 6:30 this winter night and Dad would be home any second now.

Life seemed safe and happy. Mom, dressed in a pearl choker, with a Bobbie Brooks blouse and a skirt from Sears, had dinner on the table precisely at 6:30, when Dad would walk in the door, dressed in his suit and tie from Robert Hall, a slim leather briefcase in his right hand.

Dad would leave his job at Con Edison as a manager in the billing department precisely at 4:30, ride the subway to Penn Station, and hit Toots Shor for a drink with his buddy, leaving just enough time to hop on the 5:20 bar car. He'd disembark the train, and detour from the parking lot to O'Reilly's to have one last beer before driving the 2.2 miles to Doral Court.

Life had regularity. You could use it to time eggs.

Mom always made sure to have his martini waiting on the table in the vestibule. She actually made the big shaker full of them, the one they brought out for parties, but then transferred the leftovers to Dad's special shaker after pouring his one.

And her two. Something to ease the pills down her throat.

Christmas was coming soon, and Eddie knew if he wasn't home before Dad, he would be warned about Santa not coming because he was a bad boy. This message was usually reinforced with a boxing of his ear, or a knuckle rap on the top of his head by his dad.

Corporal Hughes had been a low level clerk assigned to the quartermaster's office in Devon, England, where he listened all day long to the monotonous staccato of rubber stamps, not gunfire, although the fight with Germany was over already. There, he met Miss Fiona Weldon, a pretty English girl for whom Americans were both a mystery and frightful, noisy and dull. Except for John Hughes, of course.

They married shortly after it was discovered that Miss Weldon was carrying Eddie. Such marriages were frowned upon by his superiors, but the Weldons held a small private ceremony in their church, with tea afterwards in the rectory, so little notice was paid by the Allied command.

Within a year, the war in Europe was well over and all American personnel had shipped out, and the Hughes' were heading to New York. Although they struggled those first few years, John took advantage of the GI Bill and got a college degree and a GI mortgage, buying one of the brand new houses that Arthur Levitt was building on an old potato farm on Long Island. A ranch! It even sounded exciting!

Ten-year old Billy never really knew of want or need. In fact, his parents did so well, they often bragged of being from Westbury, an affluent community the next town over, rather than associate with the working classes of Levittown, the plumbers and carpenters and factory workers. It didn't hurt any that Mom's Southwest English accent, with its hint of Welsh, gave an air of aristocracy to his family. How little Americans know about dialects. It branded her as just a farm girl to be fucked and left back home, much like a country hick accent in America would be treated.

Eddie wheeled his bike around and sped home from the corner when he saw a pair of headlights float down the road towards him. He dropped his bike in the driveway, and ran inside, when he heard a crunching noise, and the immistakable voice of his father growling "Aw, motherfucker!"

Eddie's bike was in ruins, crushed under the wheels of the Mercury. He blanched as his father stormed up the driveway, and started yelling, "You fucking moron! What's the idea leaving your bike in the driveway? Hah? What is your fucking problem? Answer me!"

Eddie started to burble out an answer, when John's hand flew out of the darkness like a beige bat and smacked him across the ear. "You wanna cry? I'll give you something to cry about!" Eddie sobbed back his tears as best as he could, but as scared and angry as he was, he finally lost the battle: "I...was..*gasp*...WAAHHHHH!"

John turned Eddie around and smacked his behind five times, hard, then told him to go inside and get in the living room. As John entered, he pulled his belt off.
Ian turned to Ed. "There's more, innit there?"

Ed nodded. He remembered this day well now, after he saw the bike.

To Chapter Six

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Six

The Christmas tree loomed large over the chair where Eddie stood next to. His dad plunked himself down, and pointed to his lap. Eddie knelt next to his father, like the good altar boy he was, and lay across his dad's lap.

John pulled Eddie's pants down, curled the belt around his fist, and raised his hand up high. The smell of vodka and gin and beer sunk down to Eddie's nostrils as the hiss of the belt seared the air, ahead of the blistering impact of the belt. Eddie involuntarily tensed, his body nearly rolling off his father's lap.

Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssclap "If you FUCKING move again, I'm going to beat you twice as hard, boy!"

Eddie's left hand gripped the edge of the recliner tightly. Not only did he want to please his father, but he knew if he moved, the belt would catch parts of him that weren't so padded. He gritted his teeth and tried to hold back the tears as the belt drilled down on him five more times. His cheeks were shiny and wet, but he managed not to scream in agony. Much. That had gotten him the fifth strike.

As he stood up, and gathered his corduroys about him, his dad rolled the belt tightly around his fist and began to relax. "Do you think we're made of money, Eddie? I worked hard to buy you that bike, and this is the gratitude you show? Throwing it in the driveway? Why not just throw the damned thing away, Eddie? In fact, why don't we do that with all your toys? You don't need toys! You're a grown-up young man now!"

Eddie was mortified! His bike? His top? His hula hoop?

Eddie sniffled back his new-found tears hard, and said "I'm sorry, daddy."

"I have a good mind to tell Santa what a bad boy you've been. Now go wash up for supper."

Eddie stormed to his room to change his sweatsoaked shirt, then limped his way to the bathroom. He could hear bits and pieces of his parents arguing.

"Don't tell me you weren't drunk"...."what was her name? You're a creep!"..."And you're a whore, you fucking pill-popping whore!"

The next morning, December 24, was a Saturday. Normally, mom and dad slept in, while Eddie fended for himself, watching cartoons like "Crusader Rabbit," but this morning, he watched at his bedroom window as his father packed up the car with all kinds of boxes, some wrapped, some unwrapped.

Christmas morning was solemn and quiet. John and his wife and son dressed in suits, and drove the 3 miles to Our Lady Of Sorrows in Westbury. Their church, not the church three blocks from their house. Appearances must be kept! Eddie, still smarting from the spanking, stepped into the rectory and donned his white robe, and reported to Father Tom for altar service.

"No, Eddie. Your father told us what happened and asked that you be kept out of God's service today as punishment."
"Not a nice man, yer father. Didye ever wonder why?"

Ed shook his head. He was not one for psychoanalysis, even though two marriage counselors had tried to get him to go.

"Let's go find out, shall we?" And with a twinkle in his eye, Ian vanished in a flash, taking Ed with him.

To Chapter Seven

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Seven

"Jack, me boyo, let me tell you something. If ye want ta make it in America, ye're gonna half ta be better than anyone else around ye!" The blustery fat old man with the ruddy cheeks said to John Hughes. "No one likes us Irish, they think we smell and that we're drunks and hot tempered. And we're Catholic in a Protestant country. They don't trust us, think we're all spies fer the Vatican. We hold services in Latin, and they're afraid we'll be having them speak Latin if we ever get a chance."

The ruddy man laughed a belly laugh that shook the room. "So Jack, ye take care on th' streets! And don't be making time with no Eyetalian girl, eh, boyo? Ye fook 'em, en' marry an American girl, er an Englishwoman, got it?"

The streets of New York were filled with poor people, all struggling in the first throes of the Great Depression. Men forced to abandon their families to find work, or even just to survive for themselves. On nearly every street corner was a beggar. Or a floozy. Nobody stuck their necks out to help anyone else. Why should they? Hoover had asked big corporations to take one for the team, and they agreed, grudgingly, to try to hold onto more workers, or lower prices, but ultimately greed got the better of them, and they laid men off in droves, hiring no one. And everyone looking for a scapegoat.

Women had it the worst of all. You could almost peer into their kitchens as they sat there, preparing food nearly every minute of every day, when they weren't scraping dirt off the floors or nursing a sickly ill child, or washing clothes. And that was after they'd come home from housekeeping some other family's home for pennies a day, and being yelled at because the sheets weren't clean enough and the food wasn't fresh enough, and being manhandled by the man of the house when the wife wasn't looking, knowing they couldn't say anything about it or they'd get fired, so the hands could roam up the shirts and fondle and squeeze nipples or up the skirt for the womanly parts of a servant. And god forbid the man had a drink or two and caught her in the linen closet!

So why would an ordinary Joe go out of his way to help his fellow man, who'd be as likely to stab him in the back for a crust of bread as to thank him?

"Especially the Irish," bellowed a street corner philosopher. John could hear him. Thye always made a point of speaking loud enough so all the families on the block could hear them. They stood their, goons on either side, and preached the most disgusting hate imaginable, about the filthy Mick immigrants, and the "shiftless niggers" who took all the jobs no one else would do. And they made sure they were heard by the people they hated. If it drove even one sub-human away, they'd done their jobs.

The Irish couldn't catch a break. Yes, things were better now than they were in the 19th Century, sure. An Irishman could walk down the streets without being in danger of his life. And to be sure, it could have been worse. They could have been Jews, and really have had people look down on them, but the simple fact is, they were still different, even if they were running the fire department and police department and picked up the garbage and drove the cabs and the trains. They were still drones, blue collar workers.

And there weren't anymore signs saying "Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply", but that was more because there were just no jobs to be had. Oh sure, there was some help arriving. Governor Roosevelt had made stabs at trying to prop up the jobs market, but Mayor Walker seemed to not give a hoot that people were dying in his streets. And an Irishman to boot! It didn't help the Irish much that he was a boozer and a womanizer, so bad that the Cardinal had to denounce a fellow Irisher. No, no help at all.

Even Christmas got darker and uglier as he grew up. When he was a wee lad, he recalled that his mum, God rest her soul, and dad would take him to the pub on Christmas day, and they'd spend hours there, singing songs, greeting relations and friends, and then going around to different homes to savor foods and drink, and meet people. Now, it was church. Only mass. And home. And quiet. All too poor. All too troubled. All too grown up.

John Hughes took all this in across the course of his childhood, and as he grew up and watched his dad go from a jolly elf of a man, ruddy-cheeked and larger-than-life to a withered, bitter old man who counted every penny and cried foul anytime he thought anyone was cheating him, even if he made it up most of the time. He vowed his kid would get better from him than he got from his dad.
Ian turned to Ed. "Do ye see that? The poor Irish. Someone always had it in fer us, no matter how good things were. We were th' scratching post of America. So were th' Poles. And th' blacks. And th' Italians. And th' Jews..."

And with that, Ed flopped out of his armchair, half standing, half crouched in a bundle, as if he had been slapped in the face.

To Chapter Eight

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Eight

Ed slowly scanned the darkened dressing room. The rustle of activity out in the hall had subsided. Normally after a show, there is a flurry of noise lasting well into the late night. Ed ought to know, many has been the time he's invited a "guest" to spend time in his dressing room and had waited until the studio emptied out before making his move.

There was that one time with that certain blonde "conservative" commentator who had a predilection for dating pornographers, when she thought they were all alone, so he took her back onto the set, and stripped her naked and took her. That tape was sold back to her for a handsome fee.

Christmas Eve. Right. People were rushing home, abandoning their tasks until two days from now.

"Fucking people. No commitment." And with that, Ed sucked his glass of scotch dry and stood up to pour himself another one. Swirling in his brain alongside the barley malt extract was the vision of his heritage in New York City: the Irish, his people, hated. Treated like subhumans, despite their achievements. Mocked and poked fun of. he thought back to his own childhood, to school, to classes, and remembered how Tommy Vitoro used to poke fun of his father's accent all the time, especially when they were playing tag. Tommy used to punch Ed hard and say "You're it, Mickey!" He always punched Ed. In fact, he always made Ed "it."

Ed steadily his hand on the dresser, and then unstoppered his decanter, and poured himself another scotch. Walking back towards his chair, he felt his foot...well, miss the ground, and he flopped forward, to be caught in the arms of...nothing. He felt someone there, but saw no one, and could not feel anything beyond a presence: no muscles, no sinew, no skin, no bones.

"Ed, you really didn't think that you'd get off easy now, did you? After all, wasn't it you who who claimed illegal immigrants were all criminals and should serve jail time? If you're such a stickler for the law, then know you're not going to be given special treatment."

With that, precipitating out of thin air, was a lanky man, wearing a very nice suit. Ed knew the face, but couldn't place the name.

"Paul O'Dwyer, Ed. We met many years ago when you were first starting out on channel 5. And I am your second visitor this evening, and let me tell you, I'm very ashamed for you." Paul took the glass from Ed's hand, and carefully placed it on the arm of his chair.

And the room dissolved yet again...
The tiny apartment was in a part of town that was drifting towards oblivion. As Paul and Ed peered through the window, John Hughes sat there in his undershirt and boxers, drooling as his head nodded towards his chest. Fiona had left him years ago when his drinking and his anger boiled over nightly to the point where, having no son around to beat, he'd cuff Fiona about the head. He hadn't heard from her since she'd mailed her American passport from England, torn into little bits. For that matter, neither had Ed.

A thin, dry Christmas tree, about three feet tall, stood on the dining table behind John's easy chair, shedding needles as it stood there. A crucifix hung on the wall with a half inch of dust like snow. Mail lay about the room, willy nilly. On the floor, across the room from the television, sat Ed's Christmas card, unopened.

A wind rose up and swirled, and in an instant, Ed's mother appeared into view, but this was not his father's apartment anymore. No, it was a small house on the southern coast of England. Fiona gathered up the wrapped boxes on the table, and scurried towards the door as fast as she could, into the living room, where an enormous gathering had assembled.

"Aunt Fiona! Aunt Fiona! Please!", the children cried, as Fiona handed out presents left and right, sipping an egg nog as she sat in the very comfortable chair. "And tomorrow, children, we will go skating! And to the movies! And then we shall walk along the cliffs, and shout wishes to the sea!"

Scanning the room, Ed noticed there was no crucifix to be seen, anywhere.

To Chapter Nine

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Nine

"Marcus! Marcus! Dinner's almost ready!" Barb cried out as she put the last of the figgy pudding on the hot plate to warm.

Barb's husband, Mark, came into the kitchen, little Timmy hanging off his strong forearm, his legs dangling beneath him. Mark worked days at the Transit Authority bus yard on Second Avenue, which meant he could be close to home if Barb needed to get to the studio early. Although they were starting to make ends meet, they still had a long way to go, and so lived as modestly as possible. Timmy's medical bills as well as some of the debts that Barb and Mark had rung up before they had to go on welfare, were still hanging over them.

Mark sat Timmy down, and tucked his napkin into his collar, then took his own seat, just as Barb came in and pulled her chair out. "So how was church?"

Mark smiled at Timmy. "Oh, the know, I didn't really want to go, but Timmy insisted. He felt that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."

Barb scoled Mark, "He's not a cripple, he's disabled!"

"You? With the people you work for are being politically correct?" And they all laughed.

"Timmy, would you like to say grace."

"OK, mom....Dear God, we thank you for the food we are about to eat and for all the blessings of our family. And we thank you for the greatest gift you've given all men, your only begotten son. God, please bless us, everyone."

When dinner was finished, including the figgy pudding, Barb announced that Timmy had to go to bed, and they'd open presents in the morning.

"OK, mom, goodnight! I hope Santa leaves me something nice under the tree!"

Mark carried Timmy to bed, and read to him while Barb cleared the table and put the dishes in the small sink, and ran some water to let them soak overnight. The dinner was small, but filling.

Mark slipped up behind Barb and held her tightly around the waist. "Merry Christmas, baby, you sure look fine tonight."

Barb turned around, and kissed him. "Mark, I couldn't be happier than I am right now."

"Yea, baby, me either...except I wish you didn't have to work for that creep. Damn, but that man makes me want to get a gun!"

"Aw, honey, he's really harmless once you get past his...well, somewhere in there is a heart."

"He probably stole it from someone."

And they snuggled and kissed some more.

"I have to tell you, Mark, I work hard not to be alone with him. I think he's been alone too long, and it scares me to think..."

"It's OK, honey. Don't ever be alone with him, and you have nothing to worry about. All that talk of his about Jesus and'd think he'd have learned by now that being a Christian is about loving, not being loved. All he does is take, take, take, and he never gives. I pity the fool. Until he touches you."
With a thud, Ed landed back in his chair.

Paul looked at him, and intoned, "Just one more, Ed. Just one more."

To Chapter Ten

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Ten

Ed sat in the dark room for a while, catching his breath, trying to take in all he had just seen: his father, his mother, Barb and her family...was that a threat he heard? Maybe he should talk about it on air next week, so as to scare this Marcus off?

He guzzled the last of the second glass of scotch and found himself at the bottle again, pouring a new one. "Steady fellow," he whispered, "You still have to get home."

Ed began to change clothes, his mind swirling from the liquor and the...hallucinations. Yes. That must be it. He hadn't been feeling all that well today...he seemed feverish. Yes, it must all be made up in his mind! Good.

He buttoned up his coat, and began the walk down the narrow hall from his dressing room to the elevator lobby. Passing the guard, Murray, he threw him a quick wave and managed to shout "Merry Christmas!" to him.

Murray was Jewish, and Ed knew this. But Murray sang back a "Merry Christmas" to Ed, knowing full well Ed would try to get him fired if he said "Happy Holidays".

Ed poured himself into the back of his limo, the one with a bodyguard for a driver and bulletproof glass. Ever since that day when a radical liberal group stormed into his studio and commandeered his show, he's lived in dread of an assassination attempt.

"Where to, Mr. Hughes?" Paul Lowe was a stocky former NYC cop with a black belt in three different martial arts, and a Glock 9 in his armpit.

"Home, Wait. It's nearly midnight, right? Take me to mass. Not St. Patrick's tho...too many people would be there...I need some solitude. Church of Our Savior. Park and 38th."

Lowe eased the limo into the light traffic of the outskirts of the Theatre District, and spun around the block to head east, then south. Ed shivered in the back, despite the warm air blowing across his feet.

The limo swung out of traffic after a few minutes, and stopped in front of the church. By Catholic standards, it was small, but this was midtown Manhattan, so space was at a premium. Jesus didn't mind, though. It still drew large crowds...large crowds who made lots of contributions to the Diocese.

Ed slipped in just as the last organ strains of Puer Natus echoed against the stone walls, and sat in a pew. The priest raised his arms, palms up, and said "A prayer."

The congregation knelt. Ed found the red velvet covered pew cushion, and listened as the priest began, "Lord, in this holy season of prayer and song and laughter..."

Ed felt a chill hand close about his shoulder. He opened his eyes and strained them around his socket to try to see peripherally who was there. He saw a robe. A long black robe. He glanced up over his shoulder.

" we sing the ironies of Christmas, the incomprehensible comprehended, the poetry made hard fact, the helpless Babe who cracks the world asunder..."

The hooded figure grabbed his shoulder hard, and yanked Ed to his feet. A fleeting thought that he had been recognized by a liberal activist had flashed in his brain, until he looked at the figure eye-to...eye to hood. He couldn't see an eye. Or a face, for that matter.

The figure pointed with his other hand towards the door. No hand showed, just the wool of the robe, dangling off least it felt like a he...arm, nearly to the floor.

Ed scooted crab-like along the pew, and slid out into the nave, reminding himself to genuflect and cross himself as he left. The figure hestitated for a moment, then Ed swore he could hear a small chuckle.

His hand still on Ed's shoulder, the two walked towards the large red wooden doors of the church...and began to float upwards.

To Chapter Eleven

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Eleven

"Our top story...Conservative talk show host, Ed Hughes, was found murdered this morning. Police have a suspect in custody, but have not released his name yet."

Ed's deepest fears had come true. He knew he was controversial, but he always believed that no one would dare actually harm him. He never caused anyone any real harm, at least that he was aware of.

The hooded figure grabbed him by the shoulder and guided him once more upwards.
Barb held Timmy in her lap as they sat, waiting. Mark was led in, handcuffed, by two police officers who plopped him down in the seat across the table from them. The room was windowless, one bright lamp above them, with a large mirror on one wall.

"Mark, I'm so sorry. I should have left years ago, but we needed the money, and he'd never been as bad as that."

Mark sat, stone silent. He'd already met with his lawyer, and so would say nothing. Barb sensed this, and quickly changed the subject.

"Do you need anything, Mark? I can run home and bring it here."

"No. The arraignment will be first thing in the morning, and it's only for my own safety that they haven't taken me to Rikers. No telling what some cracker guard might have in mind. I'm scared, Barb," he said, almost adding he wished he'd hadn't done it.

"I know, baby. I know."

"Listen, you and the boy should leave. There's a pile of press outside the station, and so stop at the desk and see if they can get you home."
The figure swirled around Ed to watch his reaction.

Nothing. He grabbed Ed's shoulder and pushed him forward and upward.
"Fiona, you need to come home. Ed's been killed....yes, I'm sure of it. The cops just left, and the news programs are all over it. I suspect you'll see it on the Beeb..." Here, John sneered. "...any moment now....Well, I can hold the funeral up for...six weeks? For heaven's sake, Fiona! This was your son too!...he did well, Fiona, no matter how awful you think he is. Damn you!"

And with that, John hung up the phone, and took another slug from the bottle of MacAllen's he'd opened after the cops left, belched, and aimed the remote and fired off an infrared beam to change the channel. "Bloody bastards. Probably some Jew who took offense at the Holocaust denial show. Bastards always find some nigger to do the dirty work, or a spic."
Ed cringed a little, listening to his father.

The hooded man seemed to stare at Ed, then turned on his heel and began walking.

"Wait! Is there anything I can do to prevent my death?"

The figure stopped, walked back and grabbed Ed by the shoulder and almost threw him skyward.

To Chapter Twelve

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Twelve

The cold night air pierced Ed like an icicle dagger. He hadn't felt this cold since that last night, a long time ago, when he was struggling to make it as a reporter and the station sent him out to cover a blizzard. He had assumed he was working in-studio, but the wife of one of the editors complained about something he had said to her when he was drunk at the holid...Christmas party, and then grabbed her tit.

The hooded figure pointed...
Timmy was crying, sitting in his chair at the kitchen table. Barb was sobbing, practically beside herself, as the two female detectives offered her a handkerchief.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we have to go over this one more time. Can you tell us precisely what Mr. Hughes did to you last night?"

"I-it's hard for me to tell you. It's so embarassing."

"We understand, Ms. Croce, but please understand that we want to be fair to everyone involved. You said in your statement that he touched you. Where, precisely?"

"T-t-timmy...please go to your room for a while...OK...Ed...he...," and Barb pointed. "He sli-slid his hand up my dress, and tug-tugged away my panties, then f-f-fondled..."

"I'm very sorry, Ms. Croce. Please forgive us for asking these questions. We'll finish this up quickly so you can have some peace."

"Did he do anything else?"

"Y-y-es. He pulled out his...penis...and started telling me it in my mouth."

The two detectives didn't need to exchange glances, but they did. This wasn't the first harassment claim against Hughes, altho the records were sealed when the settlement was quietly made, but there had been an arrest, of sorts.

"Thank you, Ms. Croce. That will be all for now. Please accept our apologies again on this."

"Thank you, detectives."

The door closed quietly behind them, and Barb let out a wail, which made Timmy wheel into the room. "Oh, Timmy! I've lost your father! And I've lost my job!" She buried her head into his shoulder as he reached out and hugged her.

"That's alright, momma. We'll get by. Jesus is looking out for us, and we'll make it. Don't be scared."
Ed felt the hand grip his shoulder again, and they rose, settling near a cold street corner.
A young man in a wheelchair, nose dripping, wearing shabby gloves and clothes, sat with a cup in his lap.

"Anyone? It's Christmas. Please. Help me. I can't...I can't take much more!"

"Alright son, you can't stay here. The building management says you're creating a nuisance, blocking their sidewalk," the cop, reluctantly, said.

Ed looked up. It was the building he lived in. Used to live in. Whatever. He stared at the young man. It was Timmy, and it was almost....could he?

As Timmy wheeled himself away, he looked straight at Ed...and his look clearly said "You did this".

"Jesus! Why?!? GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE!" Timmy cried as he wheeled down the block.

To Chapter Thirteen

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Thirteen

Ed stared into the void of the hooded robe for what felt like an eternity. He had learned one thing as the world's most confrontational interviewer: he could make any man break with his glare.

Nothing. Not a reaction. No flinching.

"Surely, something can prevent all this? Someone?..."

The hood stayed rock-steady still.

"What must I do?"

They rose once more...
"So this Happy Holidays...this is all a bunch of malarkey for you people, designed by liberals to destroy Christianity?"

"No, Ed, we don't want to destroy Christianity or Christmas or Christ. All we want is what Christians want: the right to practice our beliefs without reprisal or judgement. That's what this country was founded upon, and that's what we're entitled to in our Declaration: liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

"That's a load! This is a Christian nation! Our Founding Fathers were Christian and they even wrote about divine providence in the Constitution and the Declaration!"

"They also wrote about freedom of religion, which means that the government must respect all faiths, including the unfaithed, and by extension, so must society!"

"By taking the Christ out of Christmas?"

"No! But the holiday season has many more holidays than just Christmas."

"Oh shut up already! We'll be back after these messages..."
Ed felt the hand grip his shoulder once more, and they Long Island. Levittown, not Westbury.

They settled to the ground like two leaves, and stood at a graveside. The freshly turned earth smelled sweet. There was a ceremony going on. They listened.
" Thy servant departed, that he may not receive in punishment the requital of his deeds who in desire did keep Thy will..." Father Tom intoned.

A handful of people stood close by. A few scattered TV trucks, mostly NewsNet and its affiliates, and a smattering of gawkers, behind police tape about twenty yards away. Some carried signs: "Burn In Hell!", "Christians For Tolerance", and one or two carried old subway advertising boards. One bright light held up a "burning" Christmas tree, by pasting gold and red mylar to the branches.

Ed scanned the small group gathered graveside. There was Dad, of course, and two of Ed's three wives, and two of his children. Raquel looks like she skipped the service, but that's in keeping with her style: she was always jetting off somewhere. With someone. It was never enough for her.

And the head of NewsNet, a pixie-faced Aussie who made a boatload of money by first creating controversies and then attacking the same controversies. His master stroke? Publishing a book and then setting up a nationally telecast interview with a certain notorious killer, then killing the whole deal when his news division mercilessly attacked the idea. He made gobs of advertising money in the middle of the November sweeps, and still managed to release the book and make the million dollar advance back and much more. He was here all the way from Shanghai, with his lovely (fifth) wife.

And that was it.

Wait...that was it? None of the crew? OK, not Barb, but no one else?

"May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace."
With that, the hooded figure reached up and pulled his hood back. Before Ed stood a tall handsome North African man.

"I am Joshua, son of Joseph. Some have called me Jesus. Ed, I am here to judge you."

With that, Jesus picked Ed up and flung him into the grave.

To Chapter Fourteen

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Fourteen

Ed fell for days without end, the constant flutter in his belly and tingling in his nether regions a testament to his continual downward progression. He neither sped up nor slowed down, but felt every molecule of air as it rushed past him. He hungered, thirsted, but had neither food nor water. But oh yes, he had waste products flowing out of him! It made for quite the sight.


For a moment, Ed lay there on the warm graveley ground, and assessed the damage. It felt like he had all his bones, with no extras. The fall should have killed him, yet he was conscious of all around him, including, as he opened his eyes, a pair of walking sneakers. Black. Velcro.

"Wel-hell! What have we here?" a male voice, purposely pitched higher into a sing-song tone, rang out in his near-deafened ears. "Hello, newbie."

Ed propped his hands under his shoulders and pushed up a few inches. The struggle to crane his neck upwards took forever and exhausted him. In silhouette, he saw a man of moderate age, wavy-haired with a widow's peak. He blinked, then slowly slid his legs under him to sit up.

"Don't speak, Hughes. You'll need your strength. As you may have gathered, you've had a long journey to an unpleasant place."

Ed tried to open his mouth and shuffle some syllables out, but found he didn't have the strength, sure enough. He let his eyes do the talking, and gave this stranger a blank stare.

"What's that? Three ghosts? So who am I? I'm surprised you haven't figured that one out yet, Amy, but keep pedalling. You're a shoo-in for the big girl X Games. Now, I have to figure out what to do with you..."

The stranger stopped talking, and gaudily rubbed his chin with his hand in a mockery of Ed. "Hmmmmmmmmmm...."

As he stood there, Ed managed to slip his feet under his torso, and began to squat, steadying himself with his palms on the ground.

"No no, newbie! No need to stand up! You have to learn to crawl before you can walk here! So what kind of skills do you have...let's see..." said the stranger as he scanned a clipboard he was carrying. "No. No. No. No. N----ahhhhhhhhhhhh! But no. No. No. No. No. Ever play the harmonica? No? Too bad, we would have use for you in the homophobe No. No. Wait! No. No. Nnnnnnnnno! Well, you're pretty mnuch useless to me."

Ed stood up.

"Well, look at you, standing up, all proud of yourself. Bet you want to switch to the pull-up big boy pants now....Look, Hughes, here's the deal: you're a twisted sick son of a bitch who hates nearly everyone, yet has no usable skills. There's a special place for people like you who call the 'waaaaaaaahmbulance' anytime you feel the slightest bit injured, and you're in it. In fact, we have a special level reserved for you. No, no! Don't try to speak! Sit...well, no, because that rock's on fire, and you won't listen then, so stand and listen: Being good didn't mean lecturing other people on being good. It meant, well, being good. MOW-THE-ING the words was meaningless. You had to do good, and live by the teachings to be good. In your case, all you had was your mouth, so guess what? Down here, you lose your voice! Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you, newbie?"

Ed took a deep breath, opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't remember how to form words. Or make sounds. For that matter, he had to force himself to exhale.

"I guess you do. Good. So your challenge throughout eternity is to try to get people to understand you somehow. It ought to be interesting to watch YOU relying on the compassion of other people. But I digress. Didn't it occur to you somewhere along the line that you might want to reconsider making fun of people who are different from you? Who needed your help? You had a platform to use to help people. Instead, you turned it into a weapon that, rather than unify your fellow citizens, served to highlight the differences, segregate the cultures, and ultimately, well, youuuuuuu fucked yourself, newbie, because the very people who could have been praying for your soul are the ones who you needed to persuade The Man Upstairs that you had earned a place at the banquet. I've watched the tape they send down with each newbie. It ain't pretty, the things you did, especially tearing that poor kid apart who lost his father on September 11. That alone, I almost came up to claim your soul for."

"Did you even read the Bible? Damn, son, because if you had, you'd know I was thrown down here for a lot less than you were, and that was before, y'know, the whole 'only begotten son' thing went on. You, you trampled on the Word and picked out the wrong bits to focus on. Honestly, I'm not sure how proud you have to be to focus on the trimmings and not on the main course of the meal. See, life isn't about you. It's about them," said Satan as he swept his arm outward, gesturing to all the other people around him. "Even I got that much. Do good by people, and people will do good by you."

"If it helps, you should have thought about it this way: The afterlife is like one giant game of 'Reverse Survivor', where everyone gets to vote you on the island, but only He can make you come down here. Get it now?"

Ed stared in disbelief, then slowly nodded his head.

" your job down here..."

To Chapter Fifteen

A War On Christmas Carol: Chapter Fifteen


Jesus looked down, ten years later, to see what time had wrought.

Timmy had entered rehab, grown up, and began a modestly successful store for the wheelchair bound, selling surgical supplies and lifestyle-assisting devices.

Marcus had been sentenced to twenty years to life, but because of the extenuating circumstances involving the sexual abuse of his wife, the judge threw the sentence out, and gave him three years in a minimum security prison, plus an additional ten years on probation.

Barb had found work as a housemaid in the Bronx, and managed to duck most of the publicity, although occasionally someone would recognize her when she would shop for the family. When Mark was released from prison, and Timmy had completed rehab, they reunited. Mark began to work in as an apprentice on a construction site, and after a short while, completed his electrician's certification. Barb then quit her job as a maid, and went to work for Mark's boss as office manager and sales rep.

And Ed...Ed still toils silently in his own little private corner of hell, mocked constantly by circumstances and his own private Satan.

After all...he was privileged!


Blog Sticky Note: RE-UPDATED

Please scroll down for current posts. This sticky will remain on top until tonight.

I just wanted to let you know that you should check out SLB on Christmas morning for my very special surprise to you, my readers. A gift. I rarely write fiction...I find writing characters tedious and time-consuming...but I got the bug on Friday, and I'm about thirteen chapters through an anticipated fifteen-chapter novel. I figure I'll have it finished in time for Christmas.

It is finished...

No hints. No clues. You'll have to tune in.

Penultimate Christmas Music Blogging

The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl

My favorite all-time Christmas ballad. RIP Kirsty, from one diver to one who died doing what she loved.

A Greater Gift

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.

It's really tempting to become preachy on Christmas Eve. As I look forward to the festivities of tonight and tomorrow, opening presents, spending large amounts of time with family (and people wonder why this season depresses me????), and reflecting on why we're celebrating, it would be really easy to shame people for standing in line for the Wii or Playstation 3, when a story like this crosses my desk:
HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong schoolboy who died in a traffic accident has brought festive hope to at least seven other patients through the rare mass donation of a large number of his vital organs.

Fourteen-year-old Miu Chi-ho died from brain injuries after being hit by a bus several days ago, but doctors were able to save the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, bones and corneas of the healthy and athletic teen-ager.

"There were at least seven recipients of the organs," said a spokeswoman with Hong Kong's Hospital Authority.

Miu's 41 year-old mother, a single parent on social welfare, ignored the protests of superstitious relatives in insisting on the donations to "bring hope to other families," Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper reported Friday.
I think the key conflict of our lives is to try to live in grace, while not comprehending precisely what that "grace" is. "Grace" in this instance, is not just a Christian concept, but I define it as extending to anyone who wants to do good by their fellow humans.

You do a little good, and find out that all you've done is push the envelope of your life a little further out, that living in grace means always trying to do a little bit more to improve yourself, your life and the lives of those whom you touch.

Part of the raison d'etre of this blog is to give voice to my grace, to reach out and if I've changed one mind about one thing for the good in the sixteen months (and 93,000 visits!) I've written, then I've earned that much more grace. I plant seeds, and somewhere down the line, they sprout, I think.

Whether it's God, the Force, Intention (as described by Wayne Dwyer), what have you, the karmic circle of doing good, of paying it forward, can make massive changes, incrementally. The energy builds until it is unstoppable. A bus hits a teen, and seven people's lives suddenly become vastly improved. Not all of those seven will truly appreciate the gift they've been given, but it doesn't matter: someone will, whether it's the recipients, their families, or even just you, reading this story third hand on my blog.

And it will help inspire you to do right by doing good.

And THAT, my friends, is a greater gift. Forget the Wii. Tell this story at the dinner table tonight. Let's pay it forward. Please feel free in comments to talk about your greater gift.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Two Days Til Christmas Music Blogging

The immortal Nat King Cole

When I get my voice back, remind me to do a version of this video...

Miss C? "Burgoo"??? I Can Top That!

OK, this made me throw up a little in my mouth...
Burgoo is a stew-like soup of meat and vegetables that the settlers who poured through the Cumberland Gap survived on as they tamed this region. It featured whatever meat -- squirrel, rabbit or possum -- the backwoodsmen bagged on any given day.

But Owensboro in the western part of the state is now one of the few places where burgoo is still served in restaurants, at church picnics and barbecue cook-offs, albeit in a slightly updated form.

In many ways, burgoo is similar to Brunswick stew, another one-pot, slow-cooked dish popular in the south.
Actually, that sounds delish...find any animal, and use it in a stew.

Except modern Kentuckyians have, well....
Kentucky, the untamed western frontier when the American colonies declared independence in 1776, is struggling to keep a taste of its past alive -- a stew traditionally made from roadkill and veggies.
I can kind of imagine the dinner table conversation:

"Ma-aaa! There's a chunk of Michelin in the burgoo!"

"That's fibre, child, now chew and swaller!"
[U]nlike Brunswick stew, which has been embraced by epicures, burgoo is just a generation removed from its roots as a roadkill-and-veggie ragout. Indeed, in the late 1990s, during the scare over mad cow disease, health officials warned Kentuckians to stop eating squirrel brains, which, like squirrel meat, remains a something of a delicacy here.
Jeez, and I thought lutefish was nauseating.

For those of you too bored to click the link, "lutefish" (or 'fisk, depending on what Scandahoovian country your ancestors ran away from) is a soft gelatinous mound of fish..."stuff"...that's been soaked, first in ice cold water, then in a mixture of cold water and lye (yes, you read that correctly), then soaked in more cold water to remove the lye (found in birch ashes) and most of the nutritional value. Finns do all this outside (wisely), so our ipeäkala (roughly translated "not on your fucking life!") has to be covered with a layer of congealed reindeer fat to protect it from critters. The fat keeps the raccoons from getting to your delicacy, but your on your own to get rid of the pesky family of Norwegians that will take residence under your porch.

This of course adds an oily texture to the lutefish. It's important to not overlye the fish, or it turns into soap. My mom was never much of one for rules, so this might explain why I don't like Christmas so much, and also why I never give soap as a present. It's too tempting to open and eat.

As it turns into a jelly, it can basically be stored frozen forever, meaning a fish done in the 1800s would probably still be edible today, if stored in Santaland up in the permafrost of the Sami region. Of course seeing as nobody actually likes eating lutefish, there's a good reason why that sample from the 1800s would still survive to this day.

Once the fish is prepared, it is then soaked again with water, and cooked on its own for a few minutes. This is to ensure it doesn't infect any edible matter in the kitchen. Traditionally, the fish is then pounded between two pine boards. Epicures throw the fish away and eat the boards, but not us Finns, noooooooo, we're far too tough for that pansy way out!

Rumour has it that the Vikings once pillaged an entire city in France without drawing a sword, merely carrying a barrel of lutefish in front of them.

Serving lutefish involves preparing a cream sauce made of heavy cream and a strong laxative, as the fish has a tendency to, um, gum up the works. Also, never eat lutefish if you plan to be around an open flame twelve hours later.

The cream sauce, with a fresh ground pepper garnish, serves to mask the taste of the fish, and also to provide some meager nutritional value to the meal. Lutefish is served with boiled potatoes, mostly because no self-respecting vegetable would be caught dead on the same plate, but also to add a hint of colour to the bland off-white colour scheme of your feast.

So, to periphrase Letterman...."Burgoooo....luuuuutefish...burgoooooo...luuuuutefish"

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