Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.

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Saturday, December 31, 2020

Another year draws to a close. If you’re looking for a retrospective, personal or otherwise, you’ve come to the wrong joint.

But if you’ve come looking for a New Year’s greeting as only Eddie Murphy in Trading Places can deliver it, then you’ve hit the right spot. And unlike last year’s year-opening greeting, I’ve even got a link to it in audio format:

“Merry New Year!”

And see you on the other side…

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/31/2005 01:23:16 PM
Category: Movies | Permalink | Feedback (1)

getting in
Sports fans are all familiar with the concept of a team that, even if it wins games late in the season, needs help from other teams playing other teams to actually get into the postseason.

But that’s under normal circumstances. So fouled up is the NFC this year that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would actually need help to not get into the playoffs:

The NFL says there is only one set of circumstances in which the Bucs can miss the playoffs.

8 p.m. Saturday: Oakland beats the Giants.

1 p.m. Sunday: The Bucs lose to New Orleans and Carolina wins at Atlanta.

4:15 p.m. Sunday: Washington beats Philadelphia.

8:30 p.m. Sunday: Dallas beats St. Louis.

If all those happen, the NFL would need to figure out the strength of victory tiebreaker to knock out the Bucs, the Giants or the Cowboys (and the Bucs might still get in).

There’s convolution for you.

I’m actually quite amused by this, and by Chicago, the Giants and all these other NFC teams getting on the road to the Super Bowl. Because it’s been painfully obvious, for the past month, that all those teams are the weakest bunch of pretenders to qualify in a long time. There’s no doubt in my mind that whoever comes out of the AFC side — whether it’s the Colts, Broncos, Bengals, etc. — will roll right over the NFC chumps on the other side of the field. So it really doesn’t matter who gets the National Football Conference crown, because they’re going to get crushed in February.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/31/2005 12:30:22 PM
Category: Football | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Last year, the AP’s Jake Coyle crafted an amusing alternate-reality scenario for the entertainment landscape, with the divergence point being Janet Jackson not exposing her breast during that Super Bowl halftime show.

Coyle’s back at it for this year in review, using the non-occurence of Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping Oprah moment as the jump-off point.

Hurt by Cruise’s cold, somber manner on “Oprah,” Holmes storms out of the studio and announces that she’s leaving the “War of the Worlds” star.

“He could have at least hugged an ottoman,” Holmes says.

Spurned by the 27-year-old beauty, Cruise undergoes a period of self-examination and gives up Scientology. Devastated over losing its most famous member, the church quickly recruits Russell Crowe.

Enlightenment soothes Crowe’s anger, and the notorious phone-tossing incident never happens (although there are reports of the actor flicking a Cheez-It at a hotel bellboy).

I’ve gotta say, it just doesn’t measure up to the previous year. Maybe that perfect storm of boobies and governmental hysteria gave 2004 some legs. Or maybe Coyle shouldn’t be milking the same cow two years in a row.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/31/2005 10:10:13 AM
Category: Media, Celebrity | Permalink | Feedback

Friday, December 30, 2020

Freshman seminars, where first-year students get an intimate introduction to college instruction, are suddenly en vogue and almost a necessity for schools luring students.

It’s a way to stimulate the fresh fish early, fortifying them for the next four years:

John Gardner, founder of South Carolina’s National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, says he can think of just one downside.

“It is possible you get a student motivated and stimulated with an almost graduate-like experience,” said Gardner, who advises colleges on such programs. “And then — bang! — you turn them loose on the real first year, which isn’t anything like that.”

This all sounds very familiar to me. Maybe it should: My alma mater has been doing it for decades. Eckerd College’s freshman-only Autumn Term was designed to break in first-year students gently, focusing on interactive learning. It’s also meant to start a student off on a mentoring relationship, since the Autumn Term instructor often winds up being the academic advisor for at least the first year.

So, it looks like my little college has been ahead of the curve for a long while now. It’s a shame to see EC lose what had been a unique selling point; maybe it should really start emphasizing how long it’s been in the freshman seminar business.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/30/2005 08:28:53 PM
Category: Florida Livin', College Years | Permalink | Feedback

Who can tell what will tickle online news junkies’ fancy? The Top Ten list of 2005 stories on the St. Petersburg Times online edition hints that it’s not the likeliest suspects.

Anyone who’s read this blog for a fair amount of time knows that I dip into the Times for quite a bit of posting material. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I tagged a couple of the items on this list:

  • No. 6, regarding the arrest of a St. Pete man for leeching off an open household wif-fi access point (which somehow, according to this Technorati glance, elicited geeky empathy for that schmuck)
  • No. 9, about a cute Eckerd co-ed’s encounter with a spasmically-dying shark, with photographic evidence

Only two out of 10. I guess I’m not acutely attuned to the local news scene. Since I’m not going to be living here much longer, I guess that’s appropos.

It also begs the question: Once I’m in New York, will I feel a need to link to the St. Pete Times’ online edition? Truthfully, it’s the print edition of the newspaper that leads me to the website — I’ll tend to read it on pulp, and if I like it enough, I’ll find the Web version and blog about it. It’s all about presentation and packaging; it’s the same news, but for me, layout and medium count loads. So, logically, when I stop getting the print edition, I’d guess I wouldn’t be as compelled to seek it out online. Plus, I’ll no longer be local, so obviously, there will be less incentive to regulardly check in on St. Pete’s finest.

Then again, I’ve heard from many who rate the Times as producing a news product that’s head and shoulders above what you’ll find in other cities. Maybe I’ll be compelled to get my St. Pete fix.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/30/2005 08:00:39 PM
Category: Internet, Publishing, Florida Livin' | Permalink | Feedback

If you don’t want the bedbugs to bite, be a slob and keep your bedsheets untidy:

Researcher Dr Stephen Pretlove said: “We know that mites can only survive by taking in water from the atmosphere using small glands on the outside of their body.

“Something as simple as leaving a bed unmade during the day can remove moisture from the sheets and mattress so the mites will dehydrate and eventually die.”

No wonder I’m so healthy; I can’t remember the last time I made my beddings.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/30/2005 07:28:26 PM
Category: Science | Permalink | Feedback

looks like a job forWell, it’s done. The freelance webmastering I agreed to do for Florida Trend is done. I’ve got some minor mop-up to do tomorrow, but basically all that’s left is to turn in my invoice and get paid.

It took quite a bit longer than I thought it would. The magazine’s redesign (hinted at by the new logo on the cover image, left) means a marked increase in the number of images than an average issue would have. Plus, January is the traditional Industry Outlook issue, which means a ton of tables, which typically take a ton of time. Upshot: I put in a ton of hours, including office time from Monday until today. (At least I got it done before the year was out.)

But I am getting paid, even though it cut into my sloth time. I guess I need some pointers on how to actually be unemployed.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/30/2005 07:10:47 PM
Category: Publishing, Florida Livin' | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Thursday, December 29, 2020

Numbers don’t lie, especially in real estate. But amid the ever-escalating property values for houses, the share of family income necessary to make the mortgage payments has decreased compared to 20 years ago, meaning it’s actually more affordable to buy these days.

Unless you’re looking in the usual hotspots, like New York, Miami and California. But outside of the happenin’ spots:

In Dallas, the share of income needed to buy a typical house has fallen to 13 percent this year, from 14 percent in 1995 and 31 percent in 1980. In Tampa, it has dropped to 21 percent, from 26 percent in 1980. Even in New England, where the soaring prices of the last decades have frustrated many young families, house values have still not reached the heights of the early 1980’s, when calculated as a share of income.

“Over 20 years, affordability has definitely improved because interest rates are much lower,” said Kenneth T. Rosen, chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economic Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Houses have also grown bigger during that time, he said, so people are getting more for their money.

Relative measures like this are clearer than reports of absolute numbers. The context is easier to grasp. Doesn’t make it easier to come up with the down payment, of course (unless you go the double-mortgage route).

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/29/2005 10:00:42 PM
Category: Society | Permalink | Feedback (2)

In space, no one can hear you scream ask for a bag of peanuts. Prepping for the future hordes who’ll be visiting Lunar Disneyland, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued premilinary regulations for space tourists before they board that big rocket.

The 123-page report does not cover box-cutters or cigarette lighters, though.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/29/2005 09:24:16 PM
Category: Politics, Society, Science | Permalink | Feedback

dope rhymin'
Someone must have slipped up — “Saturday Night Live” actually did something funny for a change.

“Lazy Sunday”, aka “The Chronic(What?)les of Narnia” (also available for download via iTunes) is the geekiest whiteboy rap-quest you’re ever likely to see. I particularly liked the “I’m Ghost like Swayze” bit.

This little piece of filmed merriment isn’t enough to reverse a full decade of suckiness by “SNL”. But it’s a start, I suppose.

(Via Lost Remote)

UPDATE: Josh Levin at Slate annoints the clip with a post-modernist oldschool hip-hop video sensibility. I can see where he’s coming from, but I can’t help but think it sounds like grousing for the “good ol’ days” of rap, and how the current lineup doesn’t measure up. And before “SNL” becomes an influencer on the music, it ought to try becoming relevent in a comic vein first.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/29/2005 08:40:56 PM
Category: TV, Movies, Comedy | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Wednesday, December 28, 2020

Today I wore my deerskin dress shoes. They’re probably my favorite pair; not only do they look good, but the leather is particularly soft and supple, and really comfortable.

However, I’ve found that they provide zero insulation against the cold. I had already discovered this on a past trip up north, when I froze my feet off during winter. I guess I forgot, though. And it was chilly enough this morning that I got a good reminder.

Still, they do look good. I ought to wear them more often, weather permitting.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/28/2005 10:58:46 PM
Category: Fashion | Permalink | Feedback

Since the U.S. government already doesn’t recognize the name “Myanmar”, then Burma’s impromptu (and bizarre) shifting of the seat of government from historic Rangoon to backwater Pyinmana should also be disregarded, for consistency if nothing else.

Actually, this kooky development should be disregarded anyway, consistency or not:

Few in Rangoon can fathom the motives for the abrupt move, which began Nov. 6. Most observers and even some government officials say they suspect it was solely the brainchild of Gen. Than Shwe, the secretive head of Burma’s ruling military junta. Some have speculated that government fears of a U.S. invasion are to blame for the move, or perhaps civil unrest or even the prophesies of a soothsayer…

Senior Burmese ministers were given just two days’ notice of the relocation from the port city of Rangoon to the heartland of the majority Burman ethnic group. Witnesses recounted seeing the initial convoy depart Rangoon at precisely 6:37 a.m., a time that many Burmese attribute to the counsel of government astrologers. As the trucks pulled away from the ministries, including several housed in red brick Victorian buildings dating to the colonial era, army officers led a ritual chant of “We’re leaving! We’re leaving!”

Only the next day did the Foreign Ministry of Burma, renamed Myanmar by the junta, notify foreign diplomats that the capital had left town.

“You can communicate with the Myanmar government by letter. If you have an urgent matter, you can send a letter by fax,” said an Asian diplomat, repeating the instructions he had been given by the Foreign Ministry. “Can you believe that?”

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/28/2005 08:59:21 PM
Category: Political | Permalink | Feedback

My friends Tom and Amber gifted me “Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You’d Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini”. Promises to be a fun browse.

Authors Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg devoted the book’s dedication to pop culture doctors, great and small:

Dr. Marcus Welby, Dr. Dre, Dr. Seuss, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, Dr. J, Dr. Scholl’s, Dr. Phil, Dr Pepper, Dr. Strangelove, Doc Baker, Dr. Who, Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Johnny Fever, Doc Gooden, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Dr. John Rooney, Dr. Kildare, Dr. Hibbert, Dr. No, Dr. Zhivago, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Evil, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dr. Ben Casey, Doc Holliday, Dr. Doogie Howser, and the fight Dr., Ferdie Pacheco.

What, Dr. Doom didn’t make the cut?

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/28/2005 07:44:06 PM
Category: Publishing, Pop Culture | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Tuesday, December 27, 2020

After being touted hereabouts for years, state-of-the-art bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are set to be introduced in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The problem: It’ll be years before the shiny new behemoths hit Tampa Bay roadways.

Pinellas County will get its first BRT route in three years, running from Tampa Bay through downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches. A BRT route along Ulmerton Road is scheduled for 2009 and a north-south route along McMullen-Booth Road will follow a year later…

Although there is no firm timetable, Hillsborough County has targeted seven corridors for BRT. The first will be Hillsborough and Florida Avenues, according to HARTline spokesman Ed Crawford.

Three to five years? Meanwhile, congestion gets worse every single day. The buses will probably be obsolete the minute they get here.

Why do I get the feeling there’s plenty of time for all this to devolve into nothing but empty lip service? The road lanes for BRT need to be dedicated to that purpose, and that’s far from a slam-dunk. With everyone screaming bloody murder to not subtract precious lane space on already-crowded roads, it’ll be a dogfight to secure relevant routes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the BRT being relegated to secondardy roads, where no one will have a need for them. Ridership will be nil, which will discourage further mass transit investment.

Or, perhaps, Tampa Bay’s bus systems will fall to the same fate as that of Washington DC’s: A poor stepchild to the subway, to the point where it’s an underfunded, unaccountable, and disorganized mess. Actually, from what I’ve seen of Pinellas County’s bus service, it’s already in as bad a shape as DC’s, even without a mass-transit competitor; I can’t comment on Hillsborough’s buses. This being the case, Tampa and St. Petersburg ought to just go with commuter rail now and save themselves the years and dollars.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/27/2005 10:38:06 PM
Category: Politics, Florida Livin', Society | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Yes, blogs are booming, with some 80,000 of them being created every day. And while the quality level therein is something of a judgement call, a measurable number (1 in 5) are set up as spam blogs, or splogs, according to Umbria Communications.

Feel free to blame Google, from a couple of angles: For fostering AdSense and PageRank targeting, and for providing the easy-access Web acreage through Blogger/BlogSpot:

Blogger’s open API made it easier for computer programs to create splogs, [Umbria CEO Howard] Kaushansky said.

“We noticed a very strong correlation between the date Blogger opened [its application program interface] and when we saw spam starting to explode,” he said.

Splogs are as big a problem as any other digital junk-flooding. Will they kill blogs? Not in whole, but they’ll definitely do in the wide-open free interface/hosting services like BlogSpot. I’ve already seen the blogspot.com domain get blacklisted completely in response to rampant splogging efforts; it’s a clear disincentive to start up a blog on that platform.

When avenues for no-commitment site creation dry up, the rate of blog participation will, naturally, tail off. Bloggers who set up dedicated domains can keep plugging; of course, going that extra step indicates a more-than-casual interest in blogging anyway.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/27/2005 09:31:51 PM
Category: Bloggin' | Permalink | Feedback

If you’re looking for pure fluff to accompany your daily news mix, you could do much worse than a report about the current fashion ascendancy of redheads.

Because you never know when a kooky juxtaposition will crop up:

“Caucasians aren’t the only ones with red hair naturally,” [sociology professor Druann] Heckert says. “Malcolm X had red hair.”

I’m sure Brother Malcolm would be thrilled to be cited for such an enlightening purpose.

Pro-black-radical mix, and folical highlighting. Fight the power! (And no, I did not know that he was redheaded.)

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/27/2005 08:12:38 PM
Category: Celebrity, Fashion, History | Permalink | Feedback (1)

The mayor of Daytona Beach, just recently re-elected after a big-money campaign, is named Yvonne Scarlett-Golden.

Yvonne. Scarlett. Golden. Is it just me, or does that sound like the stage name of an exotic dancer? It’s the two garish color-names, I think.

What is it with north-central Florida’s penchant for oddly-named politicians?

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/27/2005 07:46:27 PM
Category: Political, Florida Livin' | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Monday, December 26, 2020

Still going strong on Tampa International Airport’s wi-fi Internet access. And my notebook’s battery still has something like 40 percent of a charge left.

TIA’s access does have an annoying re-confirm to it, though. I guess every 15 minutes or so, it sort of cuts you off; you don’t get dumped, exactly, but you do get redirected to the airport’s terms and conditions agreement page in order to keep surfing. It hasn’t adversely affected me yet, but I’ve had a couple of nervous minutes where I’ve finished typing out a post, then crossing my fingers while the publishing action times out (of course, based on past experience, I always save the finished post to the clipboard, just in case).

Still haven’t seen any women passing by that are worth approaching. Gravely disappointed. Remind me to never go cruising in airports on a late Monday again…

I think I’ll have to sign off anyway. Kirby’s arrival time is fast approaching. And besides, I have to go to the bathroom. And my buzz from my vodka tonics earlier tonight is starting to subside. Til tomorrow.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 11:55:50 PM
Category: Wi-Fi, Florida Livin' | Permalink | Feedback

the party's over
Yes, tonight’s the night: Monday Night Football, the NFL’s signature show, is leaving broadcast TV after 36 years. Appropriately enough, the final game, between New England and the New York Jets, is as meaningless as MNF has become.

I didn’t particularly make time for tonight’s game. I caught the beginning and the first quarter at The Hub — luckily (or not), the place was empty enough that I could actually hear the game while sipping my booze. But once I saw the archival footage of Howard Cosell, I was set.

I’m too young to have seen MNF in its glory days, when the Cosell-Meredith-Gifford troika made the show an event regardless of what happened on the field. The proliferation of satellite packages, ESPN’s Sunday Night Football, league expansion, and general oversaturation of the NFL led to the Monday night showcase becoming beside the point. As much of an NFL fan as I am, I’ve found myself passing on the week’s final game more often than not over the past few years; it’s simply been overkill, in my mind.

I will note, though, that it’s still a ratings powerhouse, even as it bows out. As is often the case, so much has been made of the decline in ratings over the past half-decade that people forget that the numbers are still better than most of what’s on the air. Sports programming is still as close to a sure-thing prospect as television has.

I’d also point out that part of what made MNF such a success was the way ABC branded it as its own little football universe, almost apart from the rest of the NFL. Chief way this was branded: Note how often the booth announcers referred to various Monday Night player performance records: Who had the most rushing yards in Monday night games, who appeared in more MNF games than anyone else, etc. Every time I heard one of these milestones announced, it struck me as sort of phony; and yet, I saw how effective it was to highlight these. You couldn’t really do that in any other sport. It punctuated how much MNF was an entity unto itself, that it could claim proprietary historical landmarks. Really, part of what sustained it for so long.

The game goes to ESPN next year, whilc the broadcast TV sheen shifts (somewhat) to NBC’s Sunday Night Football venture. In realistic terms, not much changes: ESPN and ABC are practically indistinguishable corporate sisters, so the money and infrastructure aren’t shifting much. And it’s not like the cable/broadcast divide is particularly significant anymore. Still, it represents something of a change. The uniqueness is gone, and I’m interested in seeing what will supplant it in the future.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 11:47:48 PM
Category: TV, Football | Permalink | Feedback (4)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the quantified numbers should still give everyone pause: Electronic devices now account for 15 percent of the average American household’s energy bill, triple what it was 10 years ago and roughly half of what it’s projected to be in another decade.

I take note that many of those gadgets are media devices. Thus, you can add this bill to the overall increased media expenditures that we seem to be taking on. The price of being a more “connected” society.

It’s funny how some power myths have persisted:

Yet even there [EPA Energy Star communications manager Denise] Durrett runs into a baffling myth. Some people think, she said, that “it takes more to power the computer up than if you leave it on 24 hours, seven days a week,” she said. “That’s utterly insane to me.”

The always-on computer practice has more to do with hard drive performance, I think. That school of thought holds that you put less strain on your system by keeping the computer running all the time, rather than put it through the rigors of daily start-stop spinning. But I’m sure it’s also pitched as an energy efficiency issue. Both theories being bullshit — I’ve always turned off my computers, and they’ve always lasted for several years. There’s no reason to keep your machine running all the time (especially when you live in Tampa Bay, where regular electrical storms will probably fry your motherboard if you keep it plugged in 24/7/365).

The thing is, I’d bet this myth has its roots in the similar lightbulb theory: That it expends more energy to turn a room’s lights on and off than it does to keep them burning for hours on end. Devised by someone too lazy/forgetful to turn off the lights whenever s/he was supposed to, no doubt.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 11:10:16 PM
Category: Tech | Permalink | Feedback (2)

So as part of my haphazard farewell tour of the Bay area, I visited Tampa Theatre for probably the last time. I caught everyone’s 2005 indie fave, The Squid and the Whale.

Spoiler alert: The Squid won.

Kidding, of course. It wasn’t a competition — unlike that between the python and the gator.

Squid was a pretty good flick. Although, for a film set in 1986, I kept thinking it had more of a distinctly ’70s feel to it. Not so much that I was completely convinced it was temporally displaced by a decade, but almost.

Probably the best running joke in this Brooklyn-set story is quintessentially New Yorkish: The father’s cursing fits when his neighborhood parking spot would get taken — which was, of course, every time he would pull out.

I would rather have caught Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic at this particular venue. But I guess it was there only over the holiday weekend, for some strange reason. As it was, Squid was a very good pinch-hitter.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 10:48:37 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Movies | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Nothing like killing some time on an airport pickup by blogging, courtesy of Tampa International Airport. I’m posting this via TIA’s free wi-fi access (which, coincidentally, was just pimped over the PA system as I started typing this).

My friend Kirby is coming in from Detroit at around 12:30AM, so I’ve got plenty of time to kill. I’ll amuse myself via computer for as long as the battery holds out; I think it should last a solid 2 hours. I was hoping to check out some fine ladies arriving and departing, but so far, it’s been disappointing. But the night is young…

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 10:36:14 PM
Category: Bloggin', Wi-Fi, Florida Livin' | Permalink | Feedback

pope stylin'
And Gucci, too. Despite insistence by his aides of fashion-agnosticism, Pope Benedict Benedict XVI has been sporting some stylin’ papal garb early in his reign, perhaps compensating for his charismatic shortcomings.

As for what he was wearing on his lid:

The bright red Santa cap certainly has a distinguished papal pedigree. Called a caumaro, the long forgotten head-covering dates to the Middle Ages and figures in many famous papal portraits, including one of Julius II by Raphael. It was last worn by John XXIII, who was pontiff more than 40 years ago.

I knew there was something I liked about this guy. And it’s got to be better brand identification for Prada than the book from which I based the title of this post.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 06:30:57 PM
Category: Celebrity | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Yow. For some reason, the early-morning (if you consider 9AM “early”) sunlight sorta stung me this morning. The entire drive down to the office, the glare was really disorienting me. I almost felt like Count Dracula getting out of his coffin a tad early.

Maybe a cup of caffeine will set things right. It has in the past!

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/26/2005 10:04:30 AM
Category: Weather, Florida Livin' | Permalink | Feedback

Sunday, December 25, 2020

Like our fearless leader, I try to be a uniter, not a divider. It’s in that spirit that I present Adam Cohen’s look at how current “Merry Christmas” crusaders du jour are actually eroding the season’s spirituality, in much the same way American culture has done for over a century.

The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens’ wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas “by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way” a crime.

The concern that Christmas distracted from religious piety continued even after Puritanism waned. In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the Devil had stolen Christmas “and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting and swearing.” Throughout the 1800’s, many religious leaders were still trying to hold the line. As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because “they do not accept the day as a Holy One.” On the eve of the Civil War, Christmas was recognized in just 18 states.

Maybe this is why megachurches closed up shop for Christmas this year — they’re going back to strict interpretation.

Or, like I originally thought, they just can’t compete with the commercial trappings of the holiday:

Christmas gained popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication of Clement Clarke Moore’s “Visit from St. Nicholas” and Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Weekly drawings, which created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. The new emphasis lessened religious leaders’ worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism. By the 1920’s, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the “Christmas shopping season.”

Religious leaders objected strongly. The Christmas that emerged had an inherent tension: merchants tried to make it about buying, while clergymen tried to keep commerce out. A 1931 Times roundup of Christmas sermons reported a common theme: “the suggestion that Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism.” A 1953 Methodist sermon broadcast on NBC - typical of countless such sermons - lamented that Christmas had become a “profit-seeking period.” This ethic found popular expression in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”…

This year’s Christmas “defenders” are not just tolerating commercialization - they’re insisting on it. They are also rewriting Christmas history on another key point: non-Christians’ objection to having the holiday forced on them.

The campaign’s leaders insist this is a new phenomenon - a “liberal plot,” in [Fox News anchor John] Gibson’s words. But as early as 1906, the Committee on Elementary Schools in New York City urged that Christmas hymns be banned from the classroom, after a boycott by more than 20,000 Jewish students. In 1946, the Rabbinical Assembly of America declared that calling on Jewish children to sing Christmas carols was “an infringement on their rights as Americans.”

It’s indicative of our cultural mindset now: We expect, even require, validation in the form of commercialized/consumer co-opting. If you can’t find it in the mall, it’s not that important. Unless we can take action upon it, in the form of a commercial transaction (buying it, taking in the marketing pitch, etc.), it’s too abstract to keep top-of-mind.

But that’s the world we live in. So hoist up your store-bought eggnog and savor the flavor!

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 02:57:07 PM
Category: Society, History | Permalink | Feedback (4)

I dunno about you, but it ain’t a holly jolly Christmas unless I can invoke Chico and Groucho Marx bantering over contract terms in A Night at the Opera:

Driftwood (Groucho): It’s alright, that’s in every contract! That’s what they call a “sanity clause.”

Fiorello (Chico): Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… you can’t fool me. There ain’t no sanity clause!

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 02:12:38 PM
Category: Comedy | Permalink | Feedback

I seem to recall a general rule of thumb from back in grade school that a paragraph must consist of a minimum of three sentences in order to be fully-formed.

Of course, I break that rule all the time (see above). And others think that three is too low-ball of a number to create a “real” paragraph. And in this post-modern digital landscape, where short attention spans call for short wordbites, I’d say most (not all) rules from the past century are null.

So if you clock some time at Paragraph, an abode for writers seeking quiet writing time in the heart of the Big Apple, feel free to make your grafs as long or as short as you want.

You might think that it’s daft to pay for such writing space when you could just go to, say, the library. But I can see the need to get to a non-bustling environment where you don’t have to tune out constant distraction. And a hundred-odd bucks a month for 24-hour access to simple office space in NYC is a drop in the bucket.

Finding your muse on 14th Street… Go figure.

(Via Apartment 47)

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 11:43:46 AM
Category: Creative, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback

no. 8 with a bullet
Oh well, no shiny new iPod for me. But Population Statistic clocked in at No. 8 in the Feedster Feed of the Year competition today, and blog-wise, it’s the nicest Christmas present I could ask for.

I’ve pretty much ignored such best-of-blog contests in the past. I’m not against self-promotion, but all the competitions I’ve seen amounted to little more than limited-scope circle-jerks that, ultimately, amounted to nothing. In this case, I didn’t have to do anything (thus appealing to my laziness, a definite plus), and the results depended upon qualitative peer judgement (rather than buddy-buddy voting). So, to me, this means a little something more.

Thanks to the judges for their comments. Here’s Russell Shaw’s:

Fascinating feed fuses demographic and marketing trend info into live information that explains the cultural zeitgeist. You never know what is coming next. Regularly updated with balance of entertaining and “Hmm, that’s fascinating” info. Helpful to know who is behind this site, and how to contact him.

(That “Write” link in the upper-left corner of this page, right below the feed links, should suffice for contact information, I think. I like the “cultural zeitgeist” tag, though.)

Dana Blankenhorn’s:

“A personal blog, well written, with a wide range of interesting subjects. Jump from “America’s Next Top Model” to the NHL, or a poster from the movie “Metropolis.” A cool head to get into. Feed is complete.”

(I’m nothing if not random. Also glad the feed passes muster, as I really don’t give it much exclusive consideration, despite the seeming trends; but I suppose it’d be pretty weird to be on this list if the feed somehow sucked.)

Betsy Richter’s:

can be fascinated by the unlimited minutiae of cultural artifacts that taken individually or collectively, comprise life in our times. She gives Population Statistic 9 of 10 points for uniqueness, freshness, usability and community

(I’ll take 9 out of 10 any day.)

It was a fun, if brief, ride. The Finalist button will be planted into the sidebar in short order. And I’ll continue checking the Feed of the Year Countdown to see who wins the whole enchilada.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/25/2005 11:13:29 AM
Category: Bloggin' | Permalink | Feedback (3)

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