Thursday, December 25, 2008


As someone who reads a lot of stuff about war, you find some shocking moments of humanity in what is seemingly a sea of depraved indifference to a fellow man. One of the more poignant stories about such a moment of humanity is the 1914 Christmas Truce on the trench-marked fields of France.

1914. World War I had just started to rage. The men were in for a grueling four years of punishing trench warfare that would wipe out a generation of males in Europe and leave scars that would not be healed for quite some time. Nationalist fervor had brought upon a rivalry between nations that bordered on hatred. Ripe time for decking the halls, no?

Well, at least the Germans thought so. They began doing the customary decorating (Christmas trees are a German concept) and festivities. Scottish troops on the other side began singing carols. After a while, things warmed up between the sides enough that they left their trenches and began exchanging gifts in no man's land. Soccer (or football, since we are speaking of Europe) matches started to break out in no man's land. The soldiers had time to talk amongst themselves, and they realized things weren't so different. Many of the German soldiers spent summers in England as taxi drivers, and Bavarians and Scotsmen shared the same animosity towards the dominating force in their respective nations (the Prussians and the English, respectively).

The next day, things went back to normal. But this event occurred once again in 1915 and once again during Easter in 1916, along with some smaller occurrences. Nevertheless, it was a moment not forgotten. One of the best books about war that I've read is about this very instance in history, called Silent Night. It's one of the few books that I've read that has sent chills down my spine.

Recently, on Armistice Day (11 Nov 2008), they replayed the game at a similar spot where the original truce happened. Germany won the match, 2-1. But I guess you can figure out who the real winners and losers were.

I Like Revenge Served Like My Gazpacho

One of the basal instincts that many of us have as human beings is the desire for revenge, the desire to get someone back, the desire to see things evened out. That is the inherent basis for the establishment of a justice system, to ensure that the proper price has been paid by a party who has supposedly wronged another (even though modern justice systems have their flaws, which is a topic for a different time). But life is filled with injustices that happen that don't warrant such major addressing. So what do you do?

I recently decided to borrow a movie from my local library (now that all my papers are finally done with) called Rocket Science. The movie spotlights the life of a stuttering, awkward high school kid named Hal Hefner who probably has enough issues to have made me look well-adjusted back in the day. The film spotlights his immersion in the New Jersey suburban high-school debate world (how's that for a sub-segment of society) and we watch as he's allured into that world by a sharp, veteran high-school debater with a ridiculous drive to succeed. Oh yeah, the debater's a girl. And being an independent movie, you can probably figure that yes, it hits the fan quicker than you can drop the f-bomb. The second half of the movie is essentially his awkward fumbling in an attempt to win her back/seek some sort of redemption. And being an independent movie, you can probably guess where that leads.

I really did empathize with this kid's drive to seek some sort of payback, no matter how ill-conceived it was. And it make me think about a lot of things. For one, why are we so wrapped up sometimes in making others feel as miserable as we are? Is it because we sense some sort of pride that we have? Take that kid in the film. What sort of pride does he have?

Perhaps it is those who do not have much to give away that fight for it the most. An awkward, stuttering teenager is going to feel a slight like that much more than someone who's successful and more well adjusted. To have what could have been something successful and then lose it like that for someone who probably hasn't even sniffed the scent of it is a disastrous blow.

Remember that when you're seething with the desire for payback. How much did you lose? And how much will you gain?

Oh yeah, merry Christmas. And don't spit in the eggnog...unless someone really deserves it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Go WHAT Myself?!?!

Around this time of year, the problem of what one says to wish someone a happy whatever holiday (or lack thereof) surfaces. It's a serious major controversy, making the news every once a while. Fundamentalist Christians are railing against "Happy Holidays," as if all those naughty atheists are going to be rolling into town fornicating on a flat-bed truck and drinking Jack Daniels out of the bottle. More secular folks have been railing against saying "Merry Christmas" as it seems imperialistic and insulting to those who are not Christian, as if the perpetuation of saying "Merry Christmas" will result in something like the Knights Templar rolling into town on tanks (which I think would totally be cool until they identify my heathen ass and send me to kingdom come in a first class parcel).

Either way, it's a load of malarkey. Say what you want. Hell, say things that don't completely make sense. Go up to a rabbi and wish him a merry Kwanzaa, like I did. Go up to a priest and ask him how his latkes turned out. (For the record, the priest asked me why I was calling him from his own office at 2:00 AM.) Wish people whatever to just mess around with them. After all, it's truly the thought that counts.