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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a weekly reminder when a new column is available.
December 24, 2008
A column published this week, should, it seems to me, include some items figuratively wrapped in Christmas ribbons. So today I start and end with some Christmas-season-related items from past columns, skimmed from my book, “Life With Marian.” Between the holiday season beginning and end, I’ll offer some comments on a variety of items of more current origin.
My December 23, 2001 column included the following item, recalled to my attention the other day by a friend who has been reading my recently published book, “Life With Marian:”
“Daughter Nancy Karger looked out a window of her Evergreen, Colorado, home and saw what appeared to be a note on the front porch railing in early December. Possibly a message to Santa Clause from one of her sons?
“The fold-over note was addressed to ‘Dear God.’ The message inside from an 8 ½-year-old: ‘I love you, God! Jack Karger.’
“An appropriate note…on this Sunday two days before a great many people across the world will be celebrating the birth of the son of ‘Dear God.’”
In a December 26, 1996 column, I wrote:
“I tested Marian’s sense of humor with a comment on one of her Christmas presents.
“The present was a cookbook, presented by The Readers Digest to members of the national board of directors of the Public Broadcasting System, which receives consistent generous support from The Readers Digest.
“Informed of the cookbook gift, I sought—a bit facetiously—to determine the practical value to the Andersen household by asking Marian, ‘Is there anything in there about microwave cooking?’
“Marian chuckled, passing the sense of humor test, as I expected she would.”
* * *
A switch now to matters of more current interest, including this message for former Vice President Al Gore, who has been quite profitably making speeches and writing about the potential catastrophic threat of global warming:
Dear Al: In case you hadn’t noticed, apparently global warming has decided to take this winter off.
--In re the current furor over whether Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois is guilty of a crime in his alleged efforts to, in effect, “sell” the appointment to the U.S. Senate seat which will be vacated by president-elect Obama:
In Illinois, a governor going to prison seems to be about as frequent as cases in which a governor serves out his term as a free man. The biggest surprise to me in the current situation is that the present governor apparently needs a new hair stylist. At age 51, hasn’t he really outgrown those boyish bangs?
--As this was written, the vote counting in Minnesota was tilting towards the possibility that a former comedian, Al Franken, a Democrat, is about to unseat Senator Norm Coleman, Republican incumbent.
If the final vote tally sends the former comedian to the United States Senate, it seems to me that the laugh, a derisive one, will be on the people of Minnesota.
--President-elect Obama’s recent “gloom and doom” (my words) prediction that the country’s economic crisis is going to get worse before it gets better and the recovery may take years seems to me to encourage further “hunkering down” by consumers—a pattern not likely to speed economic recovery.
Obama has an understandable interest in cooling any expectations—expectations which his campaign helped build—that Obama in the White House will mean relatively prompt improvement in the welfare of a the great majority of the American people. Gloom and doom talk doesn’t help create an atmosphere in which Americans are encouraged to strive toward a better future rather than accept continuation of the downward economic slide.
* * *
There seems to be a consensus that President-elect Barack Obama comes out of a Chicago political environment which reeks of corruption. CNN news analyst David Gergen correctly observed the other night, this doesn’t mean Obama is corrupt (I agree, but I think Obama might speak out more strongly as he tries to distance himself from the Chicago corruption.)
Gergen drew a parallel between the Obama case and the case of President Harry Truman, who was first put into public office by the corrupt Prendergast machine in Kansas City. But Truman rose above his political origins and “we’ve always considered Truman one of our best and most honest presidents,” Gergen said.
It’s true, David, that history has treated Truman kindly and he is now considered to have been an honest, hardworking, generally effective president.
But in December, 1952, as Truman approached the end of his 7 ½ years in office, a poll sampling of American public opinion gave him an approval rating of 32% and a disapproval rating of 56%. So Truman was not “always” considered one of our best and most honest presidents.
Job approval ratings for President George W. Bush in recent months have ranged from 31% down to the mid to high 20s, with disapproval ratings ranging as high as 71%.
It should be remembered that public disapproval of performance of the United States Congress frequently runs below the level of disapproval of presidential incumbents. For example:
In August, 2006, the Gallup Poll indicated 27% approval of Congressional performance compared with 39% public approval of Bush’s performance as president. In November of this year, a Bush approval rating of 29% compared to an 18% Congressional performance approval in a Gallup Poll.
* * *
I noted with interest that both Turner Gill, the former Nebraska Cornhusker quarterback who has ended a successful winning season as head coach at the University of Buffalo, and Tim Tebow, University of Florida’s superb quarterback, in television interviews both thanked “My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” for help in their athletic achievements.
Such words and gestures skyward are not uncommon as athletes indicate thanks for divine intervention or support or encouragement or approval—whatever—of their athletic achievements.
In the first place, such gestures seem to me to indicate that God or Christ are taking sides in athletic competition. A questionable premise.
But even more questionable, it seems to me, is the assumption that either God or Christ would have the time to keep track of all athletic competition across the world and give a divine hand to the athletes whom they would consider the most devoted Christians.
* * *
Herewith a fresh example of a journalistic phenomenon which has bugged me for a very long time:
When a journalist is told to “review” the opening performance of a touring Broadway show or the first performance of a locally-produced show, why isn’t the “reviewer” told that his job is not to concentrate on his personal reaction, his personal tastes, but to report the facts, including, most importantly, the audience reaction, which is predictably more likely in tune with readers’ tastes than with the “reviewer’s” tastes?
Marian and I recently attended the first of five performances of the Omaha Symphony’s production of the “Christmas With The Symphony” show at the Holland Performing Arts Center.
Thus we saw firsthand the enthusiastic audience reaction, including standing ovations, and found it impossible to reconcile what we saw with what we read in the next morning’s newspaper’s “review.” (There was one exception. We did agree that the Omaha Symphony at times played too loudly, drowning out the singing of some featured performers.)
The show, we read, was “predictable,” included “two head-scratching moments” one of which “makes no sense.” We also read that one local singer’s “pleasant voice seemed strained.” Not a word about audience reaction.
The reviewer praised what he described as a winter-evocative performance by two young violinists. He wrote that “you could almost feel the angry zephyrs.”
How’s that again? “Angry zephyrs” in winter? My dictionary defines a zephyr as a “gentle, mild breeze.”
My problem with these “me first, audience second or not at all” reviews goes back a good many years. I did, however, find a way to put one such reviewer to good use.
If the reviewer liked a movie, it was almost a sure bet that I wouldn’t like it. But if the reviewer panned the move, it increased the chances that I would invite Marian to join me in viewing the reviewer-criticized film.
* * *
Here, as promised, a Christmas-time ending, condensed from the version which appeared in my column December 29, 1996:
“Last Sunday Marian and I played host to our children, their spouses and their children in a pre-Christmas brunch at the Omaha Country Club.
“More than 400 people were in attendance, and dozens of parents shepherded their children onto the lap of Santa Claus, there to be photographed and replaced in about 20 seconds by another child or two.
“As the rest of the family went through the buffet line and gathered at our table, Marian was the last to arrive. She explained:
“’I asked Santa Claus if he’d like a drink. I think he might have preferred a bourbon, but he said he’d appreciate a glass of water with a straw. I’ll be back as soon as I take him a glass of water.’
“Later, as we were leaving, I asked Santa how many people had asked him if he needed a refreshing drink. ‘Just one, a very nice lady,’ Santa replied.”
I call that story to your attention as a reminder that the Christmas season is an appropriate time to dedicate ourselves to the kind of consistent thoughtfulness for others that “a very nice lady” demonstrated by bringing a refreshing drink of water to a hardworking Santa Claus.
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