"Modern Christmas is like primitive Keynesianism," according to straight-faced economist James S. Henry -- "a short-run-oriented economic experiment that has been tried and found wanting." What is more, he fulminates in the Dec. 31 New Republic, the holiday is "an insidious and overlooked factor in America's dwindling savings rates, slack work ethic, and high crime rates."
Using actual statistics and charts to support his Scroogery, Henry tells us that Christmas "artificially pumps up consumption and reduces savings" and "introduces sharp seasonal fluctuations into the money demand," making the Federal Reserve's work even harder. It also "leads to a sharp rise in absenteeism and a slump in labor productivity that is unlikely to be recaptured the rest of the year."
The arguments are not strictly economic. Department of Agriculture numbers reveal the "slaughter" of 22 million turkeys, 2 million pigs and as many as 3 million cattle to slake the appetites of holiday eaters. Highway carnage, air traffic congestion and household fires are at their peak -- as are incidences of drug overdoses, domestic quarrels and emergency medical calls. Not to mention excessive eating and drinking "to compensate for the tribulations of Christmas."
Finally, "Christmas almost certainly reduces our capacity for charity by draining us of wealth that we might otherwise give to the needy, and of our charitable impulses. This is hardly what the person for whom the holiday is named had in mind."
Hell on Wheels True or false: The physical and social environment for the nation's handicapped has improved dramatically in the past two decades.
Before answering, consider the experiences of Bill Marsano, an able-bodied writer who for purposes of his Conde Nast Traveler assignment traveled in a wheelchair from New York to Boston and back, hardly a complicated or out-of-the-way itinerary, just to see what it's like: "unreliable, uncomfortable, excessively expensive, painfully slow, and utterly dehumanizing." And here we thought a few ramps would take care of it.
Marsano's December report, though it prompts one to ask why a genuinely disabled writer was not chosen for the part, gives no quarter of impatience or indignation. He was struck not just by the nearly wholesale incompetence of hotel, airport and railway attendants in dealing with his most basic needs, but by being "presumed mentally incompetent at all times" -- and referred to in the third-person invisible. ("Where would you like to sit him?" "Can he just get up those few steps?")
This story deserves wide circulation in the travel and hospitality industries, where the repeated messages of law and architecture clearly have not sunk in.
Doris Jean Austin, as she remembers it 30 years later, was a 12-year-old girl coming out of the store where she'd just bought her first pair of nylon stockings to wear to church the next day when she was grabbed and shoved into the back seat of a car whose radio was playing Ike and Tina Turner and held by the arms by one man and raped by the other.
She knew them both; one was married and about to become a father. When she finally got away by slipping her arms out of her coat she remembers them yelling after her, "Come and get your coat, girl. Nobody's going to believe you, you know. Nobody!"
She learned, soon, that in a sense they were right. She lived her life denying the rape, not quite remembering the victim as herself. But enough time has passed -- and unhappy time at that, as she was bounced from the WACs, divorced twice, institutionalized -- that she is able to begin to face her experience. Not only that, but also to help others by writing so movingly about it, in the January Essence.
Politically Correct Item
Mavens of the "politically correct" debate so ably and passionately framed by Jerry Adler in the Dec. 24 Newsweek cover story ("PC is, strictly speaking, a totalitarian philosophy") also will want to examine Dinesh D'Souza's "The New Segregation on Campus" in the winter American Scholar, with its disturbing depictions of racial and ethnic separatism, resentment, bigotry and racism in contemporary student and scholarly life.
Z magazine, published out of Boston, is more than 100 pages of political correctness, first and foremost this month on the subject of President Bush's gulf bellicosity, and a handy window on political anti-war organizing on the left. "Only social movements that can explain the underlying forces compelling Bush's view of the world can galvanize the kind of deep-rooted opposition needed to stop it," says the lead editorial. Plus dispatches from the fronts (Central America, academe, gay-lesbianhood, the poor), cultural news and "Commercializms," a gallery of outrageously sexist or piggish advertisements.
For 12 issues of Z, send $25 to 116 St. Botolph St., Boston, Mass. 02115-9979.
Past, Present, Future
Washington History's fall-winter number offers instructive and illustrated treatments of Rock Creek Park, whose 100th anniversary 1990 is, and of black economic development in Shaw, the thriving black business district of 1890-1920 where, in the words of one who remembers, "you had to wear a tie to walk down U Street." ... "Greetings, Friends!" -- the annual New Yorker Christmas poem by Roger Angell to which today's Style front page pays homage -- is in the Dec. 24 issue... . Beginning Jan. 6, in The Washington Post's Travel section, and on the first Sunday of the month thereafter, the Magazine Reader adds a fifth column devoted entirely to travel writing and reading.