Presenting gifts.

The Christmas season, with its achingly heavy backpack full of memories, is almost gone.

Around Thanksgiving the old familiar feelings started. I began to wish that I could wake up and find I’d effortlessly time-traveled from mid-November to the second week of January. Once again, this wish was not granted.

But this year has been different. Christmas went by like a pleasant view outside a train window. A blur of red ribbons and white lights…and, done.  The flashes back to Advent’s alcohol-fueled drama in my childhood (“it’s not Christmas until someone falls into the tree!”) were brief. The annoyance at commercialism blew by too.

A few times I’ve come quite close to living in the moment, something I do with roughly the same frequency as I climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. While yodeling.

Now, of course, I am picking apart this surprising change, a behavior that is decidedly more typical. I’m not sure what shifted me from full-throttle Grinch to placid observer, but I have a theory of sorts. It has helped to make a point of eating only the best chocolates out of those fancy boxes on various coffee tables and unhesitatingly rejecting the disappointments after a test bite.

I am also remembering a beloved one, gone these past two years, who was the only person I’ve ever known who was delirious with joy when the stores put Christmas stock out…in October.  I’m not sure where people go when they die, but when I get lucky with an orange cream on the first hit of the candy box, I know who pointed me right to it.

Why I won’t whine about federal taxes.

If you’ve ever tried to find an issue of the Congressional Record from say, April 18, 1959, you too know that it is much, much easier to find a particular episode of Law & Order playing on TV at any given time.

I spent much of yesterday morning searching for page 5696 on that date.  No luck.

Photo from columbia.edu/Corbis Bettman

Finally, I threw in the towel and emailed the Library of Congress. I expected I would hear back in a week or so. Twenty hours later, the answer is in my mailbox.

The anonymous Digital Reference Section did what elected officials always want government programs to do: Gave me some help, and then provided the tools for me to do the job myself next time.

The librarian attached Cong Record April 18 1959.  She or he was careful not to rub my nose in this failure, explaining that the 1950s were not available online, and oops! — the page numbers were 6252-53, not page 5696. Next time I know to go to a Federal Depository Library (all cities have ‘em) and get the stuff.

Oh, and the clip I was seeking? It announced an NAACP  youth march in Washington, D.C., in which thousands of young people, black and white, planned to demand equal rights for all.  “And they won’t take no for an answer.”

So, that’s why I won’t complain about taxes.

The Big Green Machine gets greener.

What if they gave a war and nobody wasted fuel?

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, it might just happen. Seems the US Navy and Marine Corps  are thinking green. “God Bless Them. The Few. The Proud. The Green. Semper Fi.” as he puts it.

As Friedman points out, Big Oil has such a stranglehold on Congress that there isn’t a chance in hell that any fuel-reducing strategies are going to make it into practice. But the Marines and Navy are figuring out ways to float green ships and keep the lights on in the war with fewer of those hyper-dangerous fuel convoys. Fewer convoys, fewer soldiers killed by roadside bombs.

And that’s the micro view in this war. In the big picture, if we were less oil dependent, it would change the whole political and economic ballgame.

Aside from the enviro benefits and Friedman’s point about a weak-kneed Congress, this campaign reminds me how much our view of the military has changed, especially among young Americans. War is still “not healthy for children and other living things” as the poster on my childhood bedroom wall claimed, but attitudes are very different. I am still haunted by the booing and back-turning that happened when my sister’s friends came home from Vietnam. We sent boys to be killed in the jungle, and punished them more when they came home.

If the military stays on this green path, it will change this dynamic even more. Won’t it be amazing if the day comes when we look around and realize that the biggest eco-heroes are in uniform?

Jacobson on Hanukkah: It’s OK to laugh.

Apparently, writing a funny piece about Hanukkah and its low place  on the holiday food chain is the journalistic equivalent of kicking a puppy.

Writer Howard Jacobson’s op-ed piece headlined “Hanukkah, Rekindled” is very good.  From its start you know it’s a winner:

Everyone knows the bare bones of the story. At Hanukkah we celebrate the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, who defeated the might of the Syrian-Greek army in 165 B.C., recapturing the desecrated Temple and reconsecrating it with oil that ought to have run out in a day but lasted eight… But how many Jews truly feel this narrative as their own? …Those Hasmoneans, for example …. The Maccabees are fair enough: they sound Jewish. Scottish Jewish but still Jewish. There was a sports and social club called the Maccabi round the corner from where I was brought up in North Manchester, and as a boy I imagined the Maccabees as stocky, short-legged, hairy men like the all-conquering Maccabi table tennis team. But “Hasmoneans” rang and rings no bells.

No fewer than 280 comments rained down on the piece and most were whiny complaints about the author’s lack of reverence, understanding, sensitivity, Jewish pride. The Letters to the Editor printed about Jacobson’s piece were a constipated bunch too.

This guy is funny. He’s a humorist. He’s making fun of himself and human nature, not crapping on a religious narrative. And he’s right, the dreidel game isn’t much fun. Admit it.