Christmas songs I can stand

Working in broadcasting, the holidays can be very annoying. You’re assaulted by the same Christmas songs over and over… and when you’re on the air, you can’t turn off the radio. (“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. And please stop it with the Mariah Carey.)

But over the years, I’ve noticed a few that don’t make me want to jab a pen into my brain. It’s a very short list.

First up is my personal favorite, “I Believe in Father Christmas.” Now, there are a few different versions of this one. The single is attributed to Greg Lake, who wrote the tune. An album version is attributed to the group he was in at the time, Emerson Lake and Palmer. And being the faithful son of prog that I am, I am bound by a religious oath to like it.

There are a few versions floating around on YouTube. One is a ridiculously sped-up recording with what passed as a music video in those days. Another is a newer live version of Greg Lake singing in a church with some help from Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. But this one is close to the actual album version I love, though for some unknown reason they’ve added a loud choir and orchestra, I’m guessing out of spite.

As far as “classics” are concerned, there’s one of them I never tire of, no matter who’s singing it. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is about as perfect a song as humans can make. There are way too many versions to choose from and I like nearly all of them, but I settled on Frank Sinatra’s because, hey, Sinatra.

And finally, we come to the king of the Christmas pack, a song so iconic and representative of the holiday it’s simply called “The Christmas Song.” And the best version is by, naturally, Nat King Cole.

Oh look, there’s time for one more. Okay, honorable mention goes to The Eagles and “Baby Please Come Home.” I’ve always loved the slightly bluesy, California rock feel.

Happy holidays!

That’s no moon…

JJ Abrams got it right.

You can forever banish the prequels from your mind. It’s awfully hard to tell you how good this is without spoilers, so let me just say if you have any worries, you can leave them outside.

Yes, the screen pops when Han Solo arrives, but our two new leads — Daisy Ridley and John Boyega — are more than capable of carrying this film and earning our love to stand beside the iconic characters of the Original Trilogy. The plot moves fast, the writing is sharp, the dialog is snappy, and not a moment is wasted from start to finish. Star Wars The Force Awakens is the real deal.

As to plot twists, no, I’m not going to spoil any of them for you, because everyone should have the same gasp experience as those of us at the world premiere and the press screenings.

The big question is this: Is The Force Awakens as good as the first Star Wars? I’m talking about Episode IV, of course, but there’s a generation of us for whom the “fourth” installment in the series is forever known simply as “Star Wars,” that movie we all experienced for the first time in 1977, our eyes wide with wonder and excitement.

The answer is no, but for this reason only: When the first Star Wars hit the screen, it was new and fresh, and none of us had ever seen that universe before.

Now we have, so The Force Awakens can’t wow us for the first time again, it can only take us back to a world that already exists for us. But it does it in such great style, with such aplomb, that it almost feels like the first time. Almost.

My only critique is that this isn’t a film for Star Wars virgins. If you’ve not kept up with the franchise or aren’t familiar with the story, you will miss the callbacks and emotional touchstones. It will likely be just another sci-fi action movie for you. But for the rest of us, it’s nearly perfect with all its reverberating moments. The mirrored callbacks to Episode IV’s cantina scene, for instance, fill us with glee.

I really like the fact that JJ showed us the original characters aging in this world. Where George Lucas gave his original universe a “lived in” look, JJ gives our iconic characters the same “lived in” feel. Han and Leia have had entire lives, and you can see them on their faces, all lined with love, care, and heartbreak.

Oh, by the way, the final shot of The Force Awakens will stand as one of the greatest in the entire franchise. It’s a perfect ending and a wonderful moment that leaves us breathless and waiting for the next chapter.

Star Wars is back. See it on the big screen as many times as you can.

Small steps

When you study history and come to Nazi Germany, you probably wonder how someone like Hitler could convince a modern, industrialized nation to blindly follow along in the systematic murder of millions.

Some followed willingly. Some followed out of fear. A few resisted but were quickly disposed of. Not many wanted to stand in the way of recognizing that a once-mighty nation was weak and had to be made great again, no matter the cost.

The thing to realize is that it only took small steps to get there. All Hitler had to do was capitalize on pre-existing bigotry against a particular group of people. Next, he had to convince people that this group was somehow a danger to the nation, and had to be stopped. Paranoia could then metastasize and take over from there. The small candles of hate could be combined, fanned and fueled into a wildfire.

Eventually, “by whatever means necessary” got added to “had to be stopped.”

From there, all else followed.

Small steps. Like saying that all members of a certain group need to be put under surveillance, or put on a registry, or barred from entering the country.

How fortunate we are to live in a country where this can’t happen.

Before assigning blame in the San Bernardino shooting…

It’s still very early in this incident, and the scene, as I write this, is currently active.

Many people are already blaming the mentally ill for today’s shooting at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, which provides social services for developmentally disabled people.

Some things to be aware of before blame is laid:

Reports from the scene are saying up to 3 heavily armed individuals walked in and started shooting during an event at the center. That doesn’t sound like mentally ill people. This sounds like some kind of well-coordinated attack, and reports say the shooter or shooters have already made their escape from the scene.

But it’s most important to point out that the vast majority of the mentally ill are not violent.

Many mentally ill people have been left high and dry with the cutting of funding and closing of facilities and have been dumped on the street to fend for themselves, with no access to family, help, or aid. On top of that, they already face the stigma of being presumed dangerous and deadly, so others treat them that way, which only further adds to their isolation.

I confess that it’s very easy to blame the mentally ill. And sometimes the perpetrators of mass shootings are mentally ill. It’s an easy answer, as easy as blaming foreign terrorists, domestic terrorists, or any group of people before all the facts are in.