Tom's Thoughts

Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Christmas Music

Working for a major retailer, you get assaulted by ceiling music all day, every day. Once the Christmas season starts, it's even more annoying. But this year I was working for a right-wing outfit that doesn't want to incur the wrath of Bill O'Reilly, so they played some Christian carols in with Frosty and Rudolph, and Winter Wonderland. It was, I admit, a refreshing change. Before, all I could hear all day was ode after ode to winter and snow and an a few Santa Claus songs.

I have some thoughts about this music, and for my own satisfaction and the edification of anyone who might want to share, here they are:

Once this season I heard Willie Nelson singing "Deck the Halls." Great! That helped me through having to listen to the dreck the rest of the time.

A song I started hearing a few years ago sounds like something from Jo Stafford or somebody, and it sound like something pulled out of its deserved obscurity in the 1940s. "The Man With the Bag." I thought it was a one-year phenomenon, but last year I heard another version of it, this time with a male singer. God help us. This year at my new store, it was just the original female vocalist, and not as often as it was at Sears.

I think the best rendition of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire....) was done by Nat "King" Cole. Funny thing about that song, and "Silver Bells" and "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is that they are little more than lists of thing seen and heard around this time of year. Gets old the fiftieth time you hear them.

When I was in high school chorus we sang "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear." I loved them then, but since I've grown up, I've gotten sick of them. They are not Biblical, they are watery in their theology, and the more you hear them the sappier they sound. Yet I couldn't spend fifteen minutes in the store without hearing one or both.

Some songs are fine if you hear them once a season: "Holly Jolly Christmas," and "Little Saint Nick" are two of them. Yet you hear them over and over and over in the store. Same with "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

Another one is the version of Jingle Bells done by Lena Horne, or someone who sounds like her. Some of the variations of the lyrics are, "Happy...all the way" and "With my baby by my side, I don't really care." As I said, once is enough.

The best version of "Sleigh Ride" is the original by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.

Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is one of the best-selling record of all time, and it seems like every copy is being played at least once.

The best version of "Joy to the World" has to be the one by the New York Philharmonic. I have the record, and if I still listened to vinyl, I would play it every year.

My liner notes on the 1967 Goodyear Christmas record says that "It's Christmas Time All Over the World" was specially commissioned for that record. Well, it's taken off enough to make into Corporate America's ceilings.

And how did a song from "The Sound of Music" sung to calm children down during a summer thunderstorm get to be associated with Christmas?

Finally, "O Holy Night" has to be the greatest, most magnificent Christmas carol ever written or performed. I'm glad I got to hear it from Home Depot's ceiling. It's just weird hearing it from the same speakers that half an hour before were emitting "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On the Christ Child

This is the season in which we celebrate the birth of the greatest revolutionary who ever lived, even though the actual birth probably occurred in April or June--Any time except December 25.

A bit of trivia: December 25 was selected as the birthdate of Jesus by Dionysus Exiguus (translated into modern English as Dennis the Short, who also calculated which year was the Year One. He was off by about 4-6 years, but out of the 2006 years since, how important is that?) who wanted to counter the Roman Saturnalia and other pagan holidays around the winter solstice. So he decided to put Christmas exactly eight days before January 1, so while pagans were celebrating on that day they would actually be celebrating the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. Happy New Year.

Back to the point at hand. The "sweet little Jesus boy" that we celebrate this season grew up to turn the world upside down. This is the man who said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Radical things to say to people who were trying to survive under an occupying army. He had more to say, according to the Gospel writers, about money and against the rich for exploiting the poor than about any other subject. He made it clear in his preaching that God sides with the poor against the rich. He told his followers to be humble, but crafty ("Be innocent as doves and wise as serpents.") and to reject the values of the popular culture which glorified wealth and despised the poor.

In modern America, we glorify wealth and lavish more tax cuts on the wealthy while disdaining the poor and needy, cutting off housing aid to Katrina victims. We lay off American workers and load up our Wal-Mart carts with cheap junk made by slave labor and child labor in China. Then we give this stuff to our loved ones in celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Irony, anyone?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On the Conventional Wisdom

The Mainstream Media (MSM), also known as the Corporate media, have a certain world view that they take for granted and expect their readers/viewers/listeners to subscribe to, as well.

First, they assume that being right on Iraq from the beginning makes you wrong now (e. g. Dennis Kucinich), but being wrong at the beginning makes you worthy of being taken seriously now (e.g. the Baker Commission).

Second, they assume that those who speak loudest firstest set the terms of the debate to follow. Example: The conventional wisdom about Augusto Pinochet is that his regime, evil, brutal, and repressive though it was, still caused the country to prosper. The Washington Post and New York Times, etc., I am told, are following that line. Not true. He overthrew a democratically-elected government and instituted a reign of terror, during which Chile did not prosper as much as much as it did under Allende, nor as much as that which followed his reign. In fact the MSM is ascribing that prosperity to Allende.

Today's third example is that the United States sometimes has to ally itself with evil dictators to advance American interests. I challenge anyone to show me where we came out on the wrong side of history when we sided with the forces of human rights and democracy. We came out on the wrong side when we backed Somosa in Nicaragua, and when we overthrew a democratically-elected government in Iran and installed the Shah, and when the Reagan Administration sent Donald Rumsfeld over to Iraq to court Saddam Hussein as an ally when the Iranians took exception to us and had their revolution which turned anti-American. We were on the wrong side of history when we backed Manuel Noriega in Panama, as Bush I showed when he started a war in order to arrest him. Well, the list can go on and on. But where have we been wrong when we supported human rights? But then, when have we supported human rights and taken them seriously?

Monday, December 11, 2006

On Being an Iconoclast

I had my sixtieth birthday the other day, and it has sparked feelings inside me that I haven't been aware of for a long time. I have thought about how different I have always been from everybody that I have ever known. I have thought about how I hated authority even when I had to be authoritative. The hardest part of being a parent, to me, was having to manage the household and exercise the parental authority I grew up rebelling against.

Of course, now I am an adjunct university professor, which is the best thing I've ever done, and I have to be an authority again. But somehow, it isn't as bad. At least I'm not in the Administration.

Crispin Sartwell has a link to an essay on his blog ( about the rage that formed his anarchy. I identified with that.

I always felt different. I had a larger vocabulary than anyone in my class at school, and got ridiculed for using such "big words" as "obnoxious." I mean, hey, doesn't everybody know words like that? Geez. When somebody asked a question in an assembly I would shout out the answer the way I heard crowds of kids shout on TV, thinking everyone would be shouting it, but the person instead called on someone who had a hand raised. Uh. Imagine how embarrassed that made me.

I have always had dreams of soaring, but never the practical mind to build the wings to do so. I blamed it on my chronic depression, even though other people said I was just plain lazy. I don't know.

Now, I still feel different. In graduate school at Appalachian State, I was told that I saw things clearly--they were obvious to me--that nobody else could see. I see analogies that other people can't grasp. Colorful analogies make me a better teacher, and I appreciate that. And I have learned empathy with others that help in my selling and in my teaching.

But I still feel different.

This brings me around to this blog. I have stated some pretty strong opinions on here, because politics is in my blood. But I bear no brief for any party. Generally I'm against whoever's in power. Now that the Democrats will be in charge of Congress, I expect to criticize them, too.

We'll see.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More on the War on Drugs

It's official: The war on drugs has become a self-perpetuating cancer. First the Clinton Administration claims federal law overrides state laws allowing medical marijuana. Then the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department (ICE) -- part of the Department of Homeland Security hire Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, known as "Lalo," to be a drug informant. Then while wearing an ICE wire he commits serial murders, some of drug suspects, but some of innocent people, and the DEA, in fact the whole Bush Administration, cover it up and even keep him on the payroll--$200,000 a year! And it's not just Mexicans he's killing. In one case it was an American.

Do we need more proof that the whole drug policy idiocy needs overhauling? Seriously.

Look at the following: This is from Glenn Greenwald's blog, Unclaimed Territory:

Added to the facts from yesterday is this letter (.pdf) from the DEA's Sandy Gonazlez (the now-fired whistleblower and former Agent in Charge of the DEA's El Paso Office) to the El Paso Director of Homeland Security's ICE. That letter provides even greater detail and documentation as to the extent not only of the DOJ and Homeland Security's knowledge of the multiple murders committed by their paid informant, but, worse still, their efforts to actively shield the murderer from prosecution and to prevent the Mexican Government from arresting him and his associates for these murders.

Beyond that, this article from The San Antonio Current (h/t sysprog) details the attempts by the U.S. Attorney in Texas who played a central role in all of this -- George Bush and Alberto Gonzales associate Johnny Sutton -- to intimidate and threaten the independent journalist from Narco News who obtained the DEA memorandum which brought all of this to light.

Get the word out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

On the Iraq Civil War

Well, we have it, don't we? We are up to our necks in a mess with no way out.

I don't want to be an "I told you so" type, but everything we were predicting before the war has come true. Everything Dick Cheney predicted 15 years ago when he was Secretary of Defense under Bush I has come true. Everything Thomas Friedman predicted has come true.

And yet the people who the so-called "liberal" media take seriously are those who were for the war before they were against it, who see no way out, and yet don't want to withdraw...yet. When the time to withdraw will come is as vague as the distance between Superman's hideout and Santa Claus's house.

Glenn Greenwald ( has a rant today about Friedman and the so-called "journalists" who still take him seriously. I highly recommend it.

And now for something completely different: I have a hearing loss which makes it hard for me to understand speech in the presence of other noise. Why is it invariably that when I ask someone to repeat something they repeat only the part of the statement I understood?

How many times has it happened?
Other Person: fieweijs weiijenf Wal-mart.
Me: What?
Other Person: Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart!

Drives me up the wall. Sometimes I have said (mostly to my second wife) "I heard the words, 'yesterday,' and 'Raleigh.'" It's accurate, but it comes across as critical, nasty, or whatever negative implication you want to put on it. I just wish people would think, and consider.

I can't remember the name of the famous Christian writer who said it, but he pointed out that people are much more considerate of people who have trouble seeing than they have with people who have trouble hearing.

I keep wishing.