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Merry Sham

Posted 11/27/2002

Again, I am disappointed. I was expecting, from an "alternative" paper, at least some small article dealing with how Christmas affects those of us who don't celebrate it. Instead, I get "The Christmas Shift," about how awful it is that many people have to work on Christmas (Nov. 20).

In response to the question "Have you ever been at some clan gathering on a chilly Christmas Eve and thought to yourself, Geez, I really wish I was at work?" the answer is yes. I purposely signed up to work on that day six months in advance so that I wouldn't have to give my family another excuse for why I wouldn't celebrate Christmas with them. To me, Christmas is a holiday that should not be celebrated by anyone.

Did all you Christians ever stop to think where the holiday came from? Oh, wait, I forgot--City Paper writers rarely take the time to do their research. Christmas comes from the pagan holiday of Yuletide, the winter solstice celebrating the return of the sun after the shortest day of the year on Dec. 21. The red and green colors typically associated with it are also pagan: green for the evergreen tree, which is the only tree not to loose its leaves in winter and thus a symbol of life through the cold months; red for the sun and the returning of lengthening days. Ever wonder why all the candle-lighting ceremonies are at Christmas? To ensure the return of the sun, of course.

Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Anyone who has studied the Bible will know two things. First, he was not born in the winter, but in the spring or the summer when the sheep were in the fields. Second, he was born in Jerusalem in the desert where they don't have fir trees. So anyone who thinks they are celebrating the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25 is sorely mistaken. But no matter how many times I tell my family this, they refuse to believe me. Therefore, instead of going round and round with them over the fact that Christmas is a sham cooked up by ancient Christians to convert pagans, I simply go to work. It is easier to say, "I can't come celebrate with you because I have to work," than to try to educate them on ancient pagan holidays.

So I hope all you City Paper staffers have fun at home celebrating your sham of a holiday. I will be at work, reveling in the fact that I seem to be one of the few unhypocritical people left in this country. And did you ever wonder why all government business is closed on Christmas even though we are supposed to have complete separation of church and state? I expected the "alternative" paper to support me in my fight against the complete Christianization of America, but it seems that you agree with the Christian right's philosophy that this is a Christian country and if you don't like it you can leave.

Laura Carlson

Editor Lee Gardner responds: Pagan, schmagan: Our "Christmas Shift" story was premised on the basic notion that it's much better to have a day off to spend with family and friends--or play video games, for that matter--than to go to work, no matter what the excuse. And most people can stay at home on Dec. 25, no matter what they may believe (or not). We here at CP are well aware of the many other undercommercialized holiday traditions that compete with the Big C at this time of year, and we respect your right to celebrate (or not) whatever and however you like, just as we hope you respect our right to engage in the silly, hypocritical goodwill-and-eggnog rites some of us enjoy. In that spirit, we wish you happy (nondenominational) holidays, on the clock or not.

Offensive Mail

After reading your article "Send Out the Clowns," I found myself deeply disturbed at the fact that Jerry Rowan, the Harborplace entertainer, has been fired for making "insensitive jokes" (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 6). I simply cannot comprehend why the Rouse Co. wants to fire him because he may have offended someone.

Comedy often revolves around political incorrectness, and most of the time jokes are offensive to certain groups of people. But that is what makes them funny; everyone is at risk of humiliation

Comedy is just another art form in which people present their views to the public. If Rowan wanted to satirize the growing racial tension in America, who is to tell him he can't share his opinion? Is the Rouse Corp. so narrow-minded that it can't take a joke? Should we fire every comedian who brings issues everyone else is too afraid to deal with to the front lines?

I find the steps taken by the Rouse Co. very excessive and think that much more harm than good will come out of firing Rowan.

Rachel Emmel

Richard Crystal of Baltimore expressed perhaps the most illiterate, Rush Limbaugh-esque criticism of political correctness that I have ever heard (The Mail, Nov. 13). "The issue is not whether Jerry Rowan was or wasn't offensive. The issue is the stick up Rouse's collective ass," Crystal said. No, Mr. Crystal, the issue is whether or not Jerry Rowan was offensive--and that issue is worth exploring.

The entire point of political correctness originally was to rid ourselves of racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, and other prejudices, and to attempt to eliminate the ways in which those prejudices are expressed in our speech, writing, institutions, and yes, in our humor. Because of political correctness, it is no longer acceptable in the workplace to publicly announce one's desire to burn crosses on the lawns of those whose skin color is different from one's own--I was under the impression that most of us regarded that as a good thing.

I'm quick to point out here that I'm not equating Mr. Rowan's remarks with those of a cross burner, nor am I saying that his remarks were, indeed, offensive. Perhaps I don't even agree that Mr. Rowan's joke was politically incorrect or that someone should be policing his performances. But I do feel that it's dangerous to begin saying that we're "so fucking sick and tired of political correctness [we] could puke," because the minute we start believing that, we stop giving a shit about other people's rights to feel safe--offensive, rude, "politically incorrect" jokes have the capability to marginalize and alienate, as well as help foster an environment where it's OK to "smear the queer" (or Muslim, or African-American, or woman). And just as I vehemently support everyone's right to free speech, I also believe that everyone has the right to visit a public space and not be offended by a scheduled performer.

Allison Stelly

I just got done reading the letters pertaining to your article on Jerry Rowan, who was told he can no longer entertain the people of Baltimore. As a longtime resident of the city, as well as a shop owner in Federal Hill, I am appalled by the Rouse Co.'s combination of arrogance and ignorance. They claim Jerry was asked to leave because he didn't follow the Harborplace Street Performers Program guidelines. Gee, I wonder who made up that load of rubbish.

So, they're supposed to follow guidelines. Well, let's see how Rouse lives by their own rules. The Business section of Oct. 30 Sun contains an article describing how the Rouse Co. was found to improperly account for $25 million dollars in expenses. Rouse Chairman and CEO Anthony Deering acknowledged the calculation violated the industry association guidelines. Oh, I see--some street performer is supposed to follow guidelines, but you folks can do whatever you damn well please.

The Rouse Co., Adair Fogarty, David Tripp . . . congratulations on continuing what real people of this great city think about corporate America: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

Beth Hawks

Blast Off

Regarding Bret McCabe's review of "Blaster" Al Ackerman at the Chela Gallery, I am disturbed by the self-contradictory descriptions of the Blaster's work (Art, Nov. 13 ). To be subversive is to be the opposite of stale--no doubt the reason for the addition of "by turns" in the headline by an astute editor. Subversion uproots any established structure and cannot therefore be stale. So what is it about the Blaster show at Chela that McCabe objects to?

He praises Blaster as "a wonderfully original mind," "technically skilled," "wonderfully and endlessly original," and an artist of "single-minded devotion." I object to none of these characterizations. I do, however, object to what can only be described as insinuations--McCabe nowhere marshals specific examples of Blaster's being "picturesque" or "stale." On the contrary, out of a show consisting of "400 plus" artworks, McCabe seems fixated on the blonde handing him a turd. He has neglected such works as the exquisitely rendered watercolors "Good Breakfast Club," "Waukeegan Tingler," "Your Harry Bates Spinach Club," and "Jack Ruby in Disguise."

One of the pleasures of Blaster's work is that he forces those of us who talk about it to repeat his delightful titles--perhaps McCabe is too taken with "the resonant power" of "installation and performance art" to be bothered with such trifles. His review was a rather shiftless thing, as if he were trying to knife Blaster in the back with a spoon, but he certainly shows promise in the brave new world of Bush America. He will not be "unfettered by commercial or popular acclaim." No, he'll go far.

Mark Hossfeld


Brian Morton is right that America does not support legalization of marijuana (Political Animal, Nov. 13). However, they are opposed to it based on some serious misconceptions that Mr. Morton seems to share.

First of all, marijuana, unlike cocaine, heroin, cigarettes, and alcohol, is not physically addictive. Marijuana tends to get grouped with cocaine and heroin in most American minds. Cocaine and heroin both act on the dopaminergic system in the brain, also known as the pleasure center. The more dopamine you produce, the more elated you feel. Cocaine inhibits reuptake of dopamine, and heroin stimulates production of dopamine. These produce a vicious cycle known as the addiction cycle, which produces physical addiction. Alcohol and cigarettes also play into this cycle, but marijuana does not. Before you brand marijuana as addictive the way the government has, perhaps you should do some research on it (try asking the psychopharmacology professor at Johns Hopkins for starters).

Secondly, marijuana has been proven to have many medical uses. If you are worried about prescription drugs for seniors, wouldn't it be great to have an easy-to-make drug that could prevent glaucoma and help out chemotherapy patients with their nausea? Marijuana is cheaper to produce than many of the currently available prescription drugs, and these are only a few of its medical benefits.

Finally, the drug war against the millions of Americans who smoke marijuana puts a tremendous stain on the national budget, as well as on our jails, which are full of pot smokers instead of violent criminals. It seems ridiculous to me that ephedrine, which is many times more addictive than caffeine and can easily kill you, goes completely unregulated, but buying marijuana is a felony.

Marijuana is not the perfect drug. I do not smoke it because I am a marathon runner and it is very bad for your lungs. But I am all for legalizing it. I think the American public would be too if they had not been fed so many lies about it. I expected City Paper, of all the media, to tell the truth. I guess I expected too much.

Laura Carlson

For a self-described "political animal," Brian Morton seems to have a strangely selective memory. He gloats over Nevada voters' failure to legalize pot but doesn't mention what happened when other jurisdictions voted the other way. For instance, when the town of Big Water, Utah, went for decriminalizing small amounts of weed, residents were subjected to endless petty harassment by state police until they reversed their decision. When Washington, D.C., voters decided to liberalize that city's marijuana laws, the congressional committee in charge of America's "last colony" refused to fund a tally of the votes, then ignored the voters' wish when a count eventually revealed the results. Perhaps Nevada voters simply realized a vote against drug prohibition will have no effect as long as America's controllers are determined to keep it.

Morton suggests "treatment" as a solution without mentioning what type or types of "treatment" he favors. Cult 12-step programs? Psychiatry? Medicinal patches? EST? Biofeedback? Chiropractic? If mandatory "treatment" is the answer, why limit it to those unfortunate enough to get busted? We could conduct regular inspection of every U.S. resident's home and person (including, of course, Morton's) and drag all those found with a crumb of some disapproved substance into "treatment" regardless of their wishes. Of if Morton favors voluntary "treatment," why not legalize all dope, so those seeking help can get it without having to stigmatize themselves by admitting they're lawbreakers?

Morton's thinking is at its most fallacious when he suggests that legalization would somehow lead abstinent types to say, "Hey, the stuff's legal--think I'll try it!" More likely, oblivion-seekers currently attracted to alcohol by its accessibility might switch to another substance. (Liquor industry bigwigs know this, which is why they often provide financial support to Just Say No-type campaigns.) Judging by Anna Ditkoff's description of drunken revelry in the same issue (Bar Scars, Nov. 13), the result of making such a switch could be an improvement in the quality of American life.

Morton says that drug use costs us all money but forgets that drug prohibition costs a whole lot of money--money that could be going to schools, transit, and libraries instead of prisons and police overtime. He's undoubtedly correct that "insurance companies would never allow outright drug legalization." But do we want insurance companies and other special interests to control social policy in a democratic nation?

Jon Swift

Marching Disorders

Yeah, Kim Sanders-Fisher, good idea, let's not have a pre-emptive strike against someone with the potential to do even more damage than Osama bin Laden--I bet you would have marched against a pre-emptive strike on the Taliban, too (The Mail, Nov. 13). Wake up and smell the terrorism--these people want to destroy us. Where will you be when Saddam Hussein releases smallpox on American soil? Marching in protest that the government didn't do enough to prevent it, no doubt.

Kendall Alexander

Heavy Metal Blunder

About the review of the Dillinger Escape Plan with Mike Patton Irony Is a Dead Scene EP, ouch (Soundtracks, Sept. 25). The writer sounds like a stuck-up speed-metal producer telling what-is-what, like the CD would have been better if they had not invited Mike Patton into the studio. Had the band not been happy with the results of the CD, they would not have put it out. The musicianship is tight, but sometimes you have to hold back a little on the volume in order to gain a better overall sound. Is it better to just sound like speed metal all the time, or would it be better to branch out creatively? You give a little, you get a little, and sometimes you lose a little, but in the case of this EP they gained a lot through collaboration.

Some writers/listeners tend to lose the general idea by being stuck in what they believe a band should sound like instead of accepting the band for how it sounds and then judging that as it is. This leads to disappointing reviews of musically superior albums.

Greg Dembeck
Bel Air

Here Spray

Scribbled-up stop signs, poles, garage doors--along with the occasional "bombing" of a prominent building--are examples of an urban (w)rite-of-passage getting out of hand ("Tag Team," Oct. 16). However, a bus or subway ride featuring a panorama of colorful "pieces" on freight cars and on the backs of warehouses to me is a treat. The swirling graphic designs with their interwoven knots, faces, etc., add life to an otherwise brutally drab underpass or bridge.

Something more: Graffiti art is oddly humanizing. There is a relatedness to this wall art. Kids appropriating a side street to play ball, or folks occupying and repairing a vacant house, or the spontaneous street memorial for a gunned-down youth--these all affirm that the city belongs to the people. The streets are meaningfully acted upon by those who live here, outside the province of the municipal bureaucracy or officialdom. An "illicit" writing that remained on a wall near an elementary school cheered me for years. It read DON'T BELIEVE THA HYPE.

Attempting to obliterate the relatively benign "environmental crimes" of young men and women street artists is absurd in these times of real brutality--from local bullies murdering whole families, on up to war plotting and global sniping from the highest offices in the land. Serious environmental crimes in Baltimore warrant solutions: the public nuisance of poison-spewing chemical plants and incinerators, the profound ugliness of radioactive waste rushing through tunnels, or the corporate-powered, government-sanctioned vandalism of rampant slicing up of every square inch of Baltimore that developers and institutions can get their hands on.

Not only art, but progress, culture, and civilization--and the struggle for these, and to define these--might be explored further in these pages.

Linda Toast

Masked Crusader

Your masks made our Halloween and maybe helped get Robert Ehrlich elected governor! ("Ooh! Scary!" Oct. 30). A cardboard backing and coat hanger reinforced them. They're useful as church fans now.

Thomas Hook

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