Friday, December 24, 2010

Real Americans are Grinches

This rant was prompted by this post on Greta Christina's excellent blog.

Christmas is fun for me… but I really can't stand this culture's "You Must Love Christmas" thing. (As exemplified by fiction's various Grinchy McScrooges: not celebrating Christmas = misanthrope.) You can shrug your shoulders on Valentine's Day, but naysay Yule and you might as well be praising Nazis.

It seems to be partly an outgrowth of plain ol' Christian exceptionalism, whereby You Must Love Jesus. And it's really reared its head in these past couple years, where not saying "Merry Christmas", or even saying "Happy Holidays", is seen as part of a massive underground effort to besiege Traditional Values and destroy Christians. The wildest irony is that the holiday itself was once seen as just that! In this country, the only ones to have actually "banned Christmas" are Christians themselves, namely Puritans. Christmas was thought to exemplify the sort of secular debauchery that fundamentalists fear today.

Nowadays, each of us is forced to "take sides" on an issue that can't even be articulated. It's just a vague notion of "Christmas is one worthy holiday among many, and its traditions come from all sorts of pagan and monotheistic practices" versus "Since when did all this non-Christian stuff and these non-Christian people even exist? Grrr! Get with the program."

Still, as much as or perhaps even more than folks like me, Christians are very much the victims of the You Must Love Christmas madness. With lucky exceptions, each American gets torn by rival factions — families, charities, and stores — to make this year's the most Wonderful Christmas Ever. And a lot of that isn't just from the pressure of the various institutions, but because so many of us really do have nice nostalgic memories of how wonderful our own Christmases used to be, back when we didn't have to worry about giving, only whether or not we would receive. Come the sacred morning, lo, we did receive, hooray! What did you get? Neat!

So we feel this tremendous guilt to give that childhood-sized emotional experience back to our parents, even if they're not alive anymore. There's this vague duty to pull off something flawless. And in the midst of all this, the failure to enjoy oneself is seen (as illustrated by Scrooge and others) to arise purely from some unwillingness to part with money, or from a displeasure that other people are having fun! (What other people? What fun? They're usually as freaked as we are!) Thanksgiving is stress-free by comparison. At least the meal can be delegated so everyone has something small to do, and much creativity isn't usually expected.

Did I mention that Christmas is fun for me? Yeah, in December I basically do my best to trim down any sense of holiday-specific obligation. Plus, even while I despair at the panic and neurotic stress of all the other celebrants, I deeply enjoy what it's really about, which is the axial tilt of the Earth with respect to the Sun, and the fun of lying to children.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Desperate Defense of DADT

According to some survey , the majority of that minority of troops who oppose the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (or, to be precise, who predict negative consequences from its repeal) are from combat arms units. As part of the grand tradition of lying with statistics, this datum was marshaled by Republicans in opposition to DADT .

Why is this dishonest? Several reasons. For one, of course some number of troops would oppose it, and of that number, a plurality will be part of some group that can easily be thought of as especially valorous — this is the military, after all! It's not like there's some part of it that Americans agree are a bunch of losers.

Relating to this, a politician saying "The majority of those who believe X are of group Y" is not a meaningful fact about the opinion of Y, because it remains quite possible that the majority of Y take the other side of the question. In fact, it's almost certain that that's so, because otherwise the politician would have used the more straightforward phrasing, "Most Y believe X".

An unspoken implication here is that the opinion of group Y — combat arms units — should be weighed more heavily than the rest of the military. Except, of course — guess what! — most combat arms units actually didn't care either.

Using this statistic is a blatant attempt to screw with the brain in the same way the affirming the consequent does. If P, then Q — so if Q, then P, right? Most X-believers are Y — so that must mean most Y are X-believers, right?

Another thing that really gets me is John McCain's repeated message along the lines of "You non-troops don't know what it's like". But in addition to his being just one person and not the Navy Incarnate, the man hasn't served in almost 30 years! Would he say that the 70% of current troops who are fine with serving alongside gays are naive elitists who have no idea what it's really like to be in the military?

In any case, if your military readiness is profoundly affected by the knowledge that one of your fellow soldiers is gay, then I, a man who would likely wet his pants in a combat zone, am quite happy to question your courage. I mean, seriously, huh?

It's as pathetic as it's insane. Hooray the bigots lost!