American Consequences - December 2018

‘Tis the Season for the Holiday Party

The Best New Year's Resolution

Christmas: Inside Out

I D E A S T H A T M A T T E R E D I T E D B Y P . J . O ’ R O U R K E AMERICAN CONSEQUENCES

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CONTENTS

DECEMBER 2018 : ISSUE 17

LOST? CLICK HERE

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26

68

6

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56

Editor in Chief: P.J. O’Rourke Editorial Director: Carli Flippen Publisher: Steven Longenecker Assistant Managing Editors: AMERICAN CONSEQUENCES

44 Books: Holiday Gift Suggestions FROM THE AMERICAN CONSEQUENCES STAFF 52 Take Control of Your Financial Future in 2019 BY DR. DAVID EIFRIG

4 Inside This Issue

BY STEVEN LONGENECKER

6 Letter From the Editor BY P.J. O'ROURKE

10 What Moved the Market

12 What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Chris Gaarde, Laura Greaver Creative Director: Erica Wood Contributing Editors: Turney Duff, Dr. David Eifrig, Andrew Ferguson, Ricardo Hausmann, John Podhoretz, Buck Sexton, Richard Smith, Yanis Varoufakis Newswire Editors: Scott Garliss, John Gillin, Greg Diamond Illustrators: Henry Smith, Mario Zucca Contributing Cartoonists: Hank Blaustein Cartoon Director: Frank Stansberry General Manager: Jamison Miller Advertising: Sam DeCroes, Jared Kelly, Jill Peterson Editorial feedback: feedback@ americanconsequences.com

56 Useless Christmas Trivia BY P.J. O'ROURKE

14 From Our Inbox

60 Venezuela: One Place Santa Won't Be Coming This Year BY RICARDO HAUSMANN 64 End the Year With a Look Back BY RICHARD SMITH 68 The Economists Who Stole Christmas BY YANIS VAROUFAKIS

18 Sense vs. Swag Gift Guide FROM THE AMERICAN CONSEQUENCES STAFF 26 Christmas: Looking In BY JOHN PODHORETZ

30 Christmas: Inside Out

BY ANDREW FERGUSON

72 Read This

34 Toys for Bad Children

COMPILEDDBYSTEVENLONGENECKER AND P.J. O'ROURKE

BY P.J. O'ROURKE AND HENRY SMITH

36 ‘Tis the Season for the Holiday Party BY TURNEY DUFF

74 The Final Word

BY BUCK SEXTON

40 Santa-Tation

78 Featured Contributors

BY P.J. O'ROURKE

American Consequences 3

INSIDE THIS ISSUE

O ffice Christmas parties... blinking lights and blow-up Santas... fruitcakes and gift exchanges... December is a time for family, friends, and traditions many of us have known since childhood. But do you really know “the reason for the season”? And what the heck is a “White Elephant” anyway? This month, we’re taking a break from the political and economic chaos of November and looking toward Christmas and the year ahead. We have gift ideas (both good and bad), holiday party tips, financial advice for 2019, and more... It’s all in our holiday issue of P.J. O’Rourke’s American Consequences . Editor in Chief P.J. O’Rourke kicks things off by wishing us peace – and quiet – this Christmas, and imagines a better Santa... one who makes things disappear. (Except maybe that fruitcake.) He also shares some of the best toys for bad children... (And we don’t mean a position in the president’s cabinet.) Featured contributors John Podhoretz and Andrew Ferguson explain how pop culture and Charles Dickens shaped the Christmas we know today, and why selling “Exmas” will never kill the true spirit of the season. The American Consequences staff shares some of their best holiday gift ideas, including some thrifty suggestions for

expensive tastes and a few of their favorite books. Analyst Dr. David Eifrig gives us some New Year’s resolutions for a stronger financial future, while Dr. Richard Smith helps us plan ahead by looking back. Economist Ricardo Hausmann tells how it’ll take a Christmas miracle to help the spiraling Venezuelan economy, and former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis offers a humorous take on how the different schools of economic thought will be spending the holidays. Bestselling author and former trader Turney Duff tells us what not to do at the office Christmas party. Finally, former CIA analyst Buck Sexton shares why “Going Grinch” is the best thing you can do for your family – and your sanity – this Christmas. We’ve uploaded a PDF suitable for printing to our archive page. And tell us what you think at feedback@ americanconsequences.com. Merry Christmas, Steven Longenecker Publisher, American Consequences

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December 2018

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From Editor in Chief P.J. O’Rourke

MY

6

December 2018

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

f course, what we’re supposed to wish for is “Peace on earth, good will to men.” But that’s asking a lot. Requesting a footprint of the American chicken flipping-the-bird+1 absolute end to global conflict and a complete and total change in human nature is pressing our luck with Santa. It’s telling Mom and Dad that what we want in our stocking is not a pony but the King Ranch.

I’ll settle for a more modest gift of peace, as in a little peace and quiet, please. The modern world has become a very noisy place. This is not the old-fashioned pandemonium of clanging bells, shrieking factory whistles, rumbling freight trains, beeping car horns, and the roar of the crowd. Rather, it’s the noise in our heads – the quietly riotous clamor of digital connectivity. Nowadays we are all hearing disembodied voices and seeing things that aren’t there, the way crazy people do. The insanity is drummed into our heads by ubiquitous glowing screens and omnipresent pulsing devices. Every person, place, and thing on the planet now has the means to instantaneously get in direct contact with... me. I hate it. TMI! But that’s an over-generous acronym. Very little of the “Too Much Information” is informative or even has coherent form. The noise-to-signal ratio is too high. Any sense is lost in static. Fact, fancy, fantasy, fallacy, falsity – feh !

The Internet is the light shining out the devil’s butthole. A Google search is looking something up by sifting through the ashes of the Great Library of Alexandria after Julius Caesar burned it to the ground. E-mail is playing Post Office with ugly party guests you don’t want to kiss. Texting is the infinite number of monkeys on the infinite number of typewriters, but they can’t write the works of Shakespeare because of autocorrect. Twitter is a public toilet for your words. And when you post something on social media, you write your name and phone number on the toilet door. The insanity is drummed into our heads by ubiquitous glowing screens and omnipresent pulsing devices. “

CLICK HERE TO READ THEWEB VERSION

American Consequences 7

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

“Baa, baa, baa!” But the communications we receive from the 21st century’s perfect digital connectivity are even less interesting than that. We’ve always had more ways to connect than there are connections we ought to be making. Now, however, we have the ability to broadcast our every thought every minute to everyone everywhere. And tout le monde returns the favor. I’m a person with lots of interesting thoughts. I’ll bet you are, too. But let’s be frank. There are (according to the latest UN estimate) 7,664,927,320 people on earth. And the other 7,664,927,318 are pretty much idiots. And let’s be honest with ourselves, too. How much time do we spend thinking thoughts like “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty,” and how much time do we spend thinking thoughts like “The f***ing Christmas tree lights are f***ing tangled up like f***”? I just Googled “untangling Christmas tree lights” and got 1,290,000 results. That’s the kind of communication digital connectivity gets us. Furthermore, I have tried – so far – 387,211 of the suggested methods of untangling Christmas tree lights and none of them work worth a darn. Thus, I send out my Christmas wish to the whole wide world and to you and yours and, for that matter, to myself...

To go through life with ear buds in is to bung the cork into the barrel of ignorance that is your skull. Every selfie is a mug shot of an intellectual felon. You might as well slap yourself silly while playing in traffic as walk around being Mr. Phoneface. The problem is communication. We have somehow gotten the idea that “communication” is always a wonderful thing. You might as well slap yourself silly while playing in traffic as you walk around being Mr. Phoneface. “ This delusion didn’t start with the digital revolution. Henry David Thoreau pointed it out 164 years ago in Walden : “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas... but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” And yet... And yet... We insist on believing that life would be better if only we all were “communicating.” If children and parents just communicated ... If Democrats and Republicans communicated ... If Palestinians and Israelis... If lions and lambs...

“I resent you.” “I despise you.” “I’ll kill you.” “I’m eating you.”

SHUT UP!

8 December 2018

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So after flying Eric Wade to our headquarters in Maryland, we arranged for two things to happen. First, he’s agreed to share his full strategy right here – free of charge – for a limited time. As you’ll see, his top recommendation right now is an investment you can make with just $1 right now. He predicts beginning this year, it could make you 70 times your money over the long term. Second, we paid him a small fortune to share his top investment ideas and recommendations. For a limited time only, you can claim risk-free access to this advisory letter here. In the meantime, Eric plans to continue using his strategy in 2019, to make even more money. It all begins with 6 magic words.

THE BIGGEST STORIES THAT MATTERED FOR THE MARKET LAST MONTH

WHAT MOVED THE MARKET

For real- time market updates from some of Wall Street’s most plugged- in analysts, CLICK

producer. The world is awash in oil, the dollar is strong, and levered traders were caught offsides... all reasons oil has crashed 34% from its peak. There were also scandals throughout the month that amplified investor fears. Goldman Sachs was implicated in one of the biggest financial scandals in history. A Malaysian investment fund called 1MDB was looted through a network of financial intermediaries and banks scattered across the globe. Two Goldman employees have plead guilty to nefarious crimes and pointed fingers at the bank for a lack of internal controls. And although a government probe has begun, the company has yet to respond. Tariffs took a toll in China as the top 10 luxury- goods makers’ stocks lost an average of 30% year to date. The threat of a prolonged battle has exacerbated the problem and Chinese officials kept silent heading into the G-20 meeting between President Trump and President Xi. Meanwhile, global investors received a “Hail Mary” pass from the Federal Reserve late in the month. The general complaint about Fed policy is that it’s raising rates too quickly, choking off economic growth. Fed chair Jerome Powell appeared to listen when he stated interest rates were close to the “neutral level” (neither help nor hurt the economy) and that future rate hikes would be data dependent. This dovish statement implied a slowdown in rate hikes and touched off a late rally in the markets.

ENDING THE YEARWITH UNCERTAINTY...

November was another volatile month. China-U.S. trade turmoil and Federal Reserve rate-hike concerns caused a shakeup in the markets. The S&P 500 Index was down 2.5% at the closing lows before rallying back late in the month for a gain of roughly 1.8%. The news from Apple wasn’t much better... On its earnings call, the company lowered earnings expectations in addition to saying it would no longer provide unit sales forecasts. Abandoning the quarterly update on iPhone sales caused fears that demand for the new $1,000 iPhone was lacking. The other FAANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) were also devastated. Amazon lowered earnings forecasts and lost $250 billion in market cap before recovering... Facebook is mired in scandals surrounding the 2016 election and fake news... At the low point, the FAANGs had dropped $1 billion in market gains. This move lower caused a stampede out of tech sectors. Semiconductors, cloud computing, social media, and financial technology were all left for dead. Oil prices also collapsed. Iranian sanctions were supposed to take hold November 1, creating global supply shortages. However, the U.S. provided waivers to eight countries, easing the impact. The Saudis and Russians have upped their output levels, but the US has surpassed both to become the top global

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December 2018

EDITORS John Gillin Greg Diamond Scott Garliss

LOOKING FORWARD...

If people are making less money or losing jobs, and companies are spending less on growth and development, that will damage the global economy. It can show up in the form of deteriorating credit-worthiness, less borrowing, or companies possibly shutting their doors. This is where the Fed’s rate hikes come into play. The best time to raise rates is during economic expansion, when paying more is not as painful for the economy. But today, cracks have begun to show in the economy, and Fed data indicate trade concerns in several sectors. As a result, growth appears to be moderating. The last thing the market wants to see in the face of slowing growth is more rate hikes. As liquidity dries up, less money circulates in the system, meaning there’s less to spend, which hurts demand and chokes off growth, perpetuating a negative cycle. The Fed’s monetary path and the trade negotiations with China need to be viewed in tandem. A trade stalemate will result in further pressure on global growth. And, if the Fed is hiking rates and slowing growth further... everyone loses.

The China-U.S. trade talks and the Federal Reserve’s policy path are major concerns for the market. The big driver here is the negotiations between the U.S. and China. Companies are worried about the damage rising tariffs could do to their earnings per share, and many are hooked on the cheap cost of producing goods in China and selling them in the U.S. Just look at Apple. China-based Foxconn builds Apple’s iPhones. It then ships them to the U.S. for finishing touches and mass distribution. Tariffs mean Apple is going to have to pay a lot more to build phones. And to maintain its margins, Apple would have to raise costs or pay its suppliers or manufacturers less. It’s already struggling to sell its $1,000 iPhone, so raising the price won’t help. And as Apple tries to negotiate down the cost of building a phone, that pain will trickle out to other places. If suppliers are receiving less money, they will spend less, take it out on their supply chain, freeze pay, or lay off workers. Given the volume of products it makes and the geographic diversity of the companies it uses, the global economy will feel the effects.

American Consequences 11

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Financial follies and disaster in the making

“What do you do? You slow down, and you maybe go a little bit less quickly, and you feel your way more. So under uncertainty of this kind, you be careful.” That’s a strong hint that the pace of rate hikes will likely slow down in 2019. And Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan took a similar approach in an interview with CNBC last week: “Fiscal stimulus is waning, and we’ve raised rates eight times over the last two and a half, three years... I think all of that means we ought to shorten up on our assessments and be willing to be very patient.” In other words, the Fed appears to be on the verge of taking a reactive “wait and see” approach with its grand monetary experiment just as cracks start to appear in the broader economy... And recently, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the rate of hiring slowed during the month of November... Economists expected a gain of 190,000 jobs during the

Cracks in the broader economy... One of the Federal Reserve’s favorite ways to stimulate the economy is through “quantitative easing” – things like maintaining artificially low interest rates or printing more money. From 2008 through 2015, the Fed kept the benchmark interest rate near zero. And despite eight increases since December 2015, this rate has remained below the rate of inflation. In other words, “real” interest rates – rates that account for inflation – have been negative or zero during that entire stretch. The Fed needs to raise rates so it can cut them again during a financial crisis... But it also needs to avoid causing the crisis itself. You see, after years of steadily increasing its rate hikes, the Fed has abruptly struck a more “dovish” tone. In a recent speech, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell likened the shift in policy strategy to walking into your living room when the lights suddenly go out. As he explained:

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December 2018

month, but only 155,000 jobs were added. That’s also less than the three-month average of 170,000. Meanwhile, homebuilder stocks have been crushed as the industry feels the effects of rising interest rates... Last week, Toll Brothers – one of the nation’s largest homebuilders – said its new home orders fell 13% year-over- year in the fourth quarter. That was its first drop in orders since 2014. We’ve also seen volatility return to the stock market... The benchmark S&P 500 Index has experienced two corrections – declines of 10% or more from recent highs – this year. That hasn’t happened since 1990. After years of complacency, investors are getting nervous. The federal funds rate now sits at 2.25%. That’s the highest it has been since March 2008 – right before financial firm Lehman Brothers met its demise at the onset of the last crisis. Traditionally, higher interest rates mean better returns on assets denominated in U.S. dollars – like U.S. Treasury bonds. Because of that, investors have less reason to hold “safe haven” assets – like gold and other precious metals – that don’t pay interest. But these folks are overlooking a dangerous long-term implication of rising rates... A looming debt bubble . With more than $20 trillion in national debt, every 1% rise in borrowing costs equals $200 billion in new interest payments. And the feds aren’t the only ones spending like drunken sailors... U.S. household debt has reached $13.5 trillion.

Corporate debt in the country sits at more than $9 trillion. Tack on another $1.5 trillion in student debt. They’re all at record levels. As rates go up, these debts will be harder for everyone to service. Defaults could start a panic across the entire U.S. economy. And equities could take a hit across the board. We simply can’t afford higher borrowing costs. As this ballooning crisis looms larger with each passing year, it’ll be increasingly difficult for the Fed to “quantitatively ease” its way out of this current deficit without serious – and significant – consequences. And the most likely scenario is that the value of the U.S. dollar will plunge. Retail survivor or recession indicator? According to Axios, today there are more than 30,000 dollar stores in the United States – nearly a 70% increase from about a decade ago. That’s more stores than the country’s six biggest brick-and-mortar retailers combined , including Walmart and CVS. While we’ve seen the so-called “Death of Retail” bring down familiar names like Sears and JC Penney, dollar stores have thrived. This is especially true in rural America, where wages and growth tend to lag larger coastal cities. During the last recession, dollar stores experienced a surge in growth and displaced big-name, low-cost alternatives like Walmart. So while the current growth of dollar stores isn’t unusual, economists – and investors – are keeping a close eye on the sector as we move to 2019.

American Consequences 13

FROM OUR INBOX

Re: Our Newest Readers Weigh In

truths and not “The Deep Truths About Life.” Because the only deep truth about life that I’ve been able to figure out is to never pull a sweater on over your head while you’ve got a lit cigar in your mouth. Just read your mag and have made up my mind, as well as a few others, lol. You guys- gals f****in rock!!! Nice job... – William C. P.J. O’Rourke comment: William, you are what we asked Santa for! Re: Demented Politics, Lunatic Markets PJ nailed it in “Demented Politics, Lunatic Markets.” What happened to the America that I grew up in? We had socially do-gooder Demos on the left, and fiscally responsible Repubs balancing them on the right. There is now no balance or compromise – it’s either angry Repubs or bleeding-heart Liberals. But most of us just want family values and reward for honesty, hard work, and saving. – Randy O. P.J. O’Rourke comment: Which we’ll get in heaven, Randy – and no place else, if Washington has its way. PJ O’Rourke’s article is facile, over generalizing, and adds nothing but a diatribe akin to a 16-year-old’s oversimplified rant on the state of disunion. If it’s not meant to be tongue-in-cheek then PJ has lost his edge; if it is, then it’s an exercise in journalistic buffoonery and contributes absolutely

Just subscribed to your new magazine. Because ... the more you know, the more you know. Re the following: “In 2009, O’Rourke described the presidency of Barack Obama as the Carter administration in ‘better sweaters’. However, in 2016, he endorsed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. O’Rourke stated that his endorsement included her ‘lies and empty promises,’ and said, ‘She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.’” I would like to know if you still feel this way? – Joan H. P.J. O’Rourke comment: Yeah, Joan, I pretty much do. Trump’s actual policies haven’t turned out to be as weird – or as worrisome – as I’d feared. But the unpredictability of the man and his strange, opaque thought process still keep me fretting. Maybe it’s just a sign of getting old – that I’m more comfortable facing a disaster (Hillary) than I am facing the unknown (Trump). That said, while I’m not happy that he won, I sure am happy that she lost. I am glad that there is someone out there that will give us some truths and facts that we don’t get anywhere and can count on. Bring it on, looking forward to it. – Thom P.J. O’Rourke comment: Thom, I hope you’re talking about plain old “facts ‘n figures” type

14

December 2018

Former hedge fund manager with a long track record of accurate predictions says a huge shift is coming towards the U.S. stock market in as little as 6 months Get Out of Cash Now

Send us a message, question, or criticism at feedback@americanconsequences.

nothing to the current state of affairs and offers nothing in the way of solutions: a journalistic jack off! – John O. P.J. O’Rourke comment: Okay, okay, John, I’m sorry I stuffed you in your locker when you were a freshman in high school. How did I know that nobody but your mother knew the combination? I apologize. Let’s move on. This is the best, most well-balanced, article I have ever read about American Politics! I wish I were a college professor, Mr. O’Rourke were in my class, and I could give him an A+. I would then ask him to read his essay to all my classes! – Olin L. I loved that PJ O’Rourke November article, perhaps written tongue-in-cheek, it is still the most accurate overall assessment I have ever read! I have so many people that NEED to read it. Thx. – Bruce M. P.J. O’Rourke comment: That’s more like it, Olin and Bruce! Now let’s go find where John O. works and TP his office cubicle. Longtime fan, first time writing about an AC article. Reality check: If Congress were the World Series and President Tweety the umpire, the Series would have been the Baltimore Orioles against the San Diego Padres in Ebbets Field. And Tweety would have pitched, caught, homered, owned the concessions, named himself the Series MVP, and declared the Giants and the Dodgers had damn well better move back to Harlem and Flatbush and start building Edsels again

that will determine who gets wealthy in America and who gets left behind.

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American Consequences 15

FROM OUR INBOX

birthday – we’d have to throw Ugly Christmas Polo Shirt parties, drink spiked lemonade instead of mulled wine, and swap chestnuts around the fireplace for a barbecue at the pool. You might be on to something here, James... P.J. O’Rourke comment: James, December 25th being the conventional date for the nativity reminds me of something my daughter said when she turned three. My wife and I wished her “Happy Birthday” and she responded – as a three-year-old will – with “Why?” We said, “Because this is the day you were born on.” She said, with great surprise, “I was born on my birthday !?” Have a blessed Christmas and survive 2019 with all the nuts. – Lawrence J. Steven Longenecker comment: Thanks Lawrence, you too! We hope every American Consequences reader has a fantastic holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, winter festivus, seasons greetings, and all the rest. Thus, it's anything of high-maintenance cost and low utility value. And that, alas, pretty much defines the Holiday Season for many of us bread-winners. But, gosh won’t the kids be surprised and delighted when they find Albino Jumbo under (or grazing on) the Christmas tree?! (Next year we promise our December issue theme will be “Golden Goose.”)

because they didn’t knowwho they were messing with. Yours cordially, Jeff K. P.J. O’Rourke comment: Jeff, I bow before your superior mastery of the sports metaphor! Re: Merry Christmas! (We Think) After more than 2,000 years in the religious business, why haven’t the infallible church and all the other Christian churches stopped propagating the lie that Jesus Christ (Yeshua) was born on December 25? This is blasphemy to God. That was when pagans were worshipping the sun god. – James M. Steven Longenecker comment: No idea, James. But for what it’s worth, the Roman Christian “merger and acquisition” of the Saturnalia winter solstice festival is probably one reason why it’s a dominant faith today. And think, if we celebrated in the summer – as some religious scholars pinpoint for Jesus’

You’re Probably Going to Ask Us About Our Cover...

Why is a gift we don’t know what to do with called a “White Elephant”? According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable , compiled in 1870 by British scholar E. Cobham Brewer and still the definitive work on the subject, “The allusion is to

the story of a king of Siam who used to make a present of a white elephant to courtiers he wished to ruin.”

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December 2018

FOR YOU, DUH. WHY NOT, IT'S FREE. Make sure you subscribe by clicking here. We’ll send you valuable updates and always send an alert when the next issue is published.

American Consequences 17

GIVE THIS ,

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December 2018

NOT THAT

American Consequences 19

From the Staff of American Consequences

Here are some ridiculously expensive presents... “The Holidays Are Priceless.” That’s a load of what the partridge does in the pear tree! Holiday gift-giving costs like the Dickens... literally. A signed first edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was sold at Sotheby’s in 2010 for $282,408. But... a deluxe silk- bound facsimile of the original 1843 publication is available on Amazon for $12.95. Ask yourself, “Does the extra $282,395.05 buy better plot, characterization, and literary style?” don ’ t buy them! Let the beneficent (but parsimonious) American Consequences editorial staff guide you to a generous (yet budget-minded) holiday season.

Don’t Give THIS A $16,000 electric golf cart that comes in eight colors (including desert camo and Barbie-doll pink), and has a built-in stereo system. Plus, it’s more than just a golf cart. As manufacturer Moke USA says: “This is a toy, a way to go to the corner store and get groceries or take something off your yacht.” Give THAT It’s called a caddie . Tip him $20 ahead of time and tell him to take good care of your gift recipient. Then buy a greens fee gift card from your local public golf course (about $40) and enclose it in the Christmas card. The person you’re giving it to probably

doesn’t even have a yacht. And if he insists on rocking out on the fairway, tell him to borrow the caddie’s earbuds.

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December 2018

Don’t Give THIS A $7.1 Million, 74-Foot Neiman Marcus Edition Serenity Solar Yacht. What if the sky gets cloudy? What if the sun sets? Give THAT A $549.99 Old Town Saranac Canoe . It works night and day in all kinds of weather and promotes cardio fitness, plus it discourages pesky yacht guests from inviting themselves onboard for cocktails.

Don’t Give THIS The $150,000 'Platinum Mamba' Knife is well-made we’re sure, but it costs more than a Porsche. And color us skeptical about this product-promo quote: “Pirates would have crossed oceans, risked their lives in battle against enemies to own an item such the platinum mamba, a sign of bloody power .”

Give THAT The $63.95 Leatherman Super Tool 300 . The blade is plenty sharp enough for pirate battles, plus you’ll be able to fix everything on the ship while you’re crossing oceans. Maybe a Leatherman isn’t a sign of “ bloody power ,” but its can opener will get you into the tomato juice for a Bloody Mary .

American Consequences 21

Don’t Give THIS A $2,295 Cashmere Pillow Case . Unless you know someone with million-dollar drool...

Give THAT The $26.99 Brazilian cotton hammock from Best Choice Products and a hand- lettered note saying “Leave Me the Hell Alone, I’m Taking a Nap!”

Don’t Give THIS A $75,000 Trek Madone 7 encrusted with diamonds . An obvious result of trust-fund kids growing up with too many bike lanes and not enough potholes.

Give THAT The $69.95 BigWheel Classic. Keeps the “trustafarians” from getting much farther than the end of Mummy’s driveway.

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December 2018

Don’t Give THIS A $3,500 Hermes skateboard . Here’s what happens when marketing executives miss the whole point of the countercultural skater thing. From the website: “This longboard is the ideal transport for traveling through the urban jungle with hair blowing in the wind or for a leisurely stroll. It combines outdoor sport and mobility equipment and tells the colorful story of Hermès silk scarves.” Give THAT One dollar to unlock a dockless electric scooter share ride . It combines outdoor sport and mobility equipment and tells the colorful story of the ridiculously overhyped LimeBike startup that has a supposed market valuation of $1.1 billion. Don’t Give THIS A $5,950 hot-air balloon expedition over Mount Everest . “This is your opportunity (to) write your own chapter in the annals of daring human feats and exploration.” Give THAT A $10 dose of illegal LSD bought on the street. It will seem like you’re on a hot-air balloon expedition over Mount Everest, and the experience will be only about 80% as dangerous.

American Consequences 23

Don’t Give THIS The $134,000 2019 Corvette ZR1 . The most powerful production Corvette has ever made, it goes from zero to 60 in under three seconds. Give THAT A $40 Rogaine treatment . If you’ve got a man on your gift list who’s having a mid-life crisis, our advice is “Go straight to the top.”

Don’t Give THIS

clean up the crumbs from the teacakes, and take the cups and saucers back to the kitchen and wash them by hand!

A $186 Harrods tea strainer . For that kind of money, it should do more than just strain your tea – it should dress up in a French maid’s outfit, serve the tea on a silver platter, Give THAT The $39.99 Bialetti Moka Express Stovetop Coffee Maker . And to heck with tea anyway. This small, precise, and beautiful Art Deco espresso percolator was designed in the 1930s and hasn’t changed since. It works great in the kitchen, on a wood stove, or – best of all – over a campfire.

Don’t Give THIS A $1,000 budget-busting bagel at the Westin Hotel in Times Square. It is schmeared with truffle cream cheese and real gold. Give THAT A $23 bagel from Russ &

Daughters is schmeared with not only cream cheese, but sturgeon and smoked salmon – instead of your dental fillings – located on the Lower East Side of New York since 1914, 179 E. Houston Street. Don’t be a schmuck.

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December 2018

Don’t Give THIS The $25,000 Taco at Grand Velas Los Cabos Resort in Baja, California, with lobster, Kobe beef, truffles, and beluga caviar. ¡ Muy estupido! Give THAT A $25,000 Taco Bell gift card , which will cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner at T-Jingle for three and a half years. They make a pretty darn good taco, too. Furthermore, Taco Bell is considered to have one of the healthiest menus of any fast food chain – with no ocean insects, Sumo cows, mushrooms dug up by pigs, or fish guts involved.

Don’t Give THIS A $150,000 bottle of Ley .925 Pasión Azteca Ultra Premium Anejo tequila to wash down your Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco Supremes. You’ll get the same hangover from what they really drink in Mexico, which is... Give THAT The $19.99 Cabrito Reposado . And, no, it doesn’t have a worm in the bottom of the bottle. Mezcal, not tequila, has a worm in it. And the worm costs extra...

However...

.All of the above having been said... Be sure to have enough SENSE to knowwhen SWAG is appropriate. There are times when you should knock it off with being budget-minded. Gentlemen, we’re speaking specifically to you – especially if you’re planning to “pop the question” or “mark a marital milestone” during the holiday season... Yes, the price of a two-carat diamond starts well north of $8,000. And, yes, you can pick up a two-carat cubic zirconia for a couple hundred bucks... BUT, DON’T GIVE THAT!

American Consequences 25

26 December 2018 LOOKING

I

n his wonderful 2008 book The Man Who Invented Christmas , Les Standiford reveals how the triumphant success of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843 placed December 25 at the center of Anglo-American bourgeois life. Before A Christmas Carol, according to Standiford, “the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter,” which is understandable, once you think about it, since Easter commemorates the unsurpassed miracle of the resurrection. Indeed, he says, the Anglican church felt that the enterprise “smacked vaguely of paganism.” The Puritans believed this, too. The Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law in 1659 that “forbade the practice and levied a fine of five shillings upon anyone caught in the act.”

By John Podhoretz

CLICK HERE TO READ THEWEB VERSION

And so “there were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys,” Standiford writes, “no outpouring of ‘Yuletide greetings,’ no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no overblown gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior.” But there was a tradition of decorating for the holiday, and the playing of games and the staging of amateur theatricals on Christmas Day. And these were things Dickens loved as a child and summoned into his art as an adult.

Christmas he may have loved, but evidently the Christ part of it was entirely secondary to Dickens. The words “Jesus” and “Christ” and “savior” appear nowhere in A Christmas Carol. Certainly, following a night in which he is visited not by figures out of Christian eschatology but by three ghosts, the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge shows every possible wonderful quality besides piety. Dickens does say in an aside that Scrooge “went to church,” but does so in a sentence that goes on to portray his time in the pew as just one element of a morning in which he walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and

IN

HOWDICKENS AND POP CULTURE GAVE US THE CHRISTMAS WE KNOWTODAY

American Consequences 27

and loving, not only to one’s own but to all of humanity. It means putting up wreaths and trees, garlanding them with lights and ornaments, buying gifts for loved ones and providing charity for the less fortunate, and gathering as family. Who could object to such a message? What logic-mad atheist could find fault with it? What Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Zoroastrian could feel all that alienated from it? We may not participate in Christmas if we are believers in another faith, but the way it has been celebrated since Dickens established its message has little or nothing exclusionary about it. That’s why I’ve always loved the Christmas season without irony or a sense of discomfort. I may love it even more than those who keep the day precisely because I don’t. The difficulties of Christmas are unknown to me as a Jew. I haven’t had a horrible family argument under the tree or at the Christmas table, and I have never felt compelled to eat a piece of fruitcake to satisfy a deranged relative who made or brought one. I bear no Christmas burdens. I’ve never had to buy a tree, or carry a tree home, or place it in the living room, or spend a frustrating evening unravelling the tangled lights. I’ve never had to get rid of the tree afterward. My Hanukkah candles melt down and disappear. There’s no disposal problem. For this very reason, it does not surprise me that the greatest Christmas songs are by Jews. Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) and Mel Tormé (“The Christmas Song”) likely had the same romantic feeling about Christmas because our connection to it was and is aesthetic, not familial, and certainly not religious.

patted children on the head, and questioned beggars... and found that “everything could yield him pleasure.” When he tells the Ghost of Christmas Future, the one who shows him his lonely grave, that “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year,” he does not mean that he will preach the Gospel. In fact, the word “God” appears only a few times as an exclamation, except in Tiny Tim’s invocation: “God bless us, everyone.” hearted, and thoughtful, and generous, and loving, not only to one’s own but to all of humanity. By 1900, the readership of A Christmas Carol was said “to be second only to the Bible’s.” And Christmas had already become the most important holiday in the Anglo-American world – a position it retains, as we move inexorably toward the middle decades of the 21st century. It appears what Dickens did, without knowing it, was create the world’s first ecumenical religious holiday. Just as the old ad line insisted, “you don’t need to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” you don’t need to be a full-throated believer in the divinity of Christ the Savior to love Christmas and to “keep it.” As Dickens describes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us!” Keeping Christmas means being open- hearted, and thoughtful, and generous, Keeping Christmas means being open-

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December 2018

In these tellings, a well- kept Christmas is an antidote to the poisons of modern life. There is one aspect of the holiday season that grows ever more fascinating, and that is the explosion over the past decade of cheap TV movies centering on the holiday. Since 2010, Hallmark has made – get this – 170 Christmas movies, which it puts into heavy rotation on the Hallmark channel beginning in mid-October. And now Netflix is following suit. It has released eight this season alone. Not since the days of the Western have there been so many films made with exactly the same plots and exactly the same setting with exactly the same effect. What’s even more interesting is that they all suggest Christmas is a time of magical salvation from the forces of modern isolation and loneliness. The plots almost always involve a young woman from a big city who finds herself, for some reason, in a picturesque small town. She is either unmarried, or engaged to someone unexciting, or sadly widowed. In the small town she finds a manly man, usually someone who works with his hands, who was either her high school boyfriend and has remained a bachelor because he pines for her or is sadly widowered. The town is wonderful. The man is wonderful. And yet the woman has a life back

in the city. But a few poinsettias, a crackling fire with some stockings hanging nearby and somehow kept from catching fire, a spinet playing carols, and a bearded man who just may be the actual Santa Claus, and you know she’s not going back to her soulless lonely modern existence. She will stay in the small town, protected from the Christmas-lessness of the everyday world, and find peace. The insatiable public appetite for this story is such that we have to assume it means something more than people liking a good Christmas movie, in part because they’re almost all very bad. In these tellings, a well- kept Christmas is an antidote to the poisons of modern life. These poisons do not spring from active evil, but from a kind of disconnectedness from community and fellowship. Apparently community and fellowship cannot be had in The City in 2018, even though Dickens’ Scrooge managed to find them smack-dab in the center of Victorian London. The same nightmarish place where his Fagin ruled over a roost of lost boy thieves and where, in Our Mutual Friend , people earned their living dragging the bottom of the Thames looking for corpses with cash-filled pockets. Thus has Dickens’ de-Christianized Christmas come down to us today, with a peculiar message of glorious retreat from the world rather than a new commitment of moral and spiritual engagement with it. God bless us everyone, indeed.

American Consequences 29

INSIDE WHY COMMERCIALIZATION CAN'T KILL THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

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December 2018

OUT

By Andrew Ferguson

CLICK HERE TO READ THEWEB VERSION

I

f you asked me to name my favorite Christmas song – though I can’t imagine why on Earth you would do such a thing – I would offer a list with several songs clustered at the top, competing for high honors and changing annually. One year “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” will edge out “I Want a Boob Job for Christmas” for the No. 1 spot. Then the next year, “Be Claus I Got High” might bump off Granny, who will tumble to No. 4, below perennial contender “Daddy Please (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” to which I have a sentimental attachment. “Christmas Conga (Bonga Bonga)” will be up there, too.

And then you would probably accuse me of being cheeky. But I’m not! Friends who know me as a Christian believer might ask where all the traditional religious favorites have gone – your “Silent Nights,” your “Little Town of Bethlehems” – which have the virtue of actually touching on the reason much of the world sets aside Christmas Day for special attention. And I do like all those religious songs as much as the next elf. For years, I would defend them against the competition of commercial and secular Christmas tunes, piously deriding the trashy and trite in favor of songs and hymns that are meant to call us

back to the religious wellsprings that inspired the season in the first place. But I’ve given up on that lost cause. I have thrown in the towel on deriding the commercialization of Christmas. The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote a useful essay distinguishing between real, genuine Christmas, the religious celebration that imposes rites and obligations on the believer, and what he called “Exmas,” which sometimes seems to be almost a separate entity altogether. Exmas is what you find stuffing the shelves at Walmart, filling the

American Consequences 31

can ever suggest, no matter how awesome the Black Friday bargains are. "Anything that distracts us from the deeper and richer truth," says the pious objector, "probably isn’t worth celebrating." And yet, and yet... surely this isn’t the whole story. Think of the attempts that have been made to banish the celebration of Christmas since it became so central to the liturgical calendar a millennium ago. One of the first official acts of Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans, having seized power from English royalty, was to make the celebration of Christmas illegal. A Puritan pamphleteer called it “the Profane Man’s Ranting Day, the Superstitious Man’s Idol Day, the Multitudes’ Idle Day, Satan’s Working Day, the True Christian Man’s Fasting Day.” The Christian way to mark Christmas was to assume a gloomy countenance and wait for the terrible day to pass like a winter squall. “No one thing more hinderest the Gospel work all the year long, than doth the observation of that Idol Day once in a year.” A century later, the rigid, leftist Jacobins of the French Revolution again tried to dismantle Christmas. They were working from the other end of the religious spectrum, obviously. Still, they disliked Christmas for the same reason the Puritans did: people were having too much fun with it. In its essence, Christmas celebrates a very particular event, situated strictly in time and place. The Christmas baby was born in an identifiable year to flesh-and-blood parents in an actual village ruled by a named official of the Roman empire. It was the particularities that frightened the Jacobins, who much preferred

entertainment channels on TV and online (Rudolph, Charlie Brown, the Grinch), and overwhelming the car radio with all- Christmas – or all-Exmas – stations that nowadays commence their programming to coincide with Halloween. Secularized and commercialized, Exmas is what inspires someone to say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Exmas has given us joyless “holiday parties” at the workplace and “winter festivals” instead of the grade school Christmas pageants of mid-twentieth century America. The enemies of Christmas, historically, have always been utterly humorless in this way – completely lacking in levity, mistrustful of human spontaneity and liveliness. There are good arguments against the commercialization of Christmas, of course. Exmas is a knockoff – a simulacrum of the real thing. An Exmas card showing a group of carolers or cozy cottages draped in snow or a family clustered ‘round the Christmas tree are two or three times removed from Christmas. They are celebrating the celebration. The cause for celebration is itself far offstage. You can forgive Christians for thinking their understanding of Christmas as a religious observance – an observance, moreover, resting on the dazzling paradox that the Creator of the universe came to Earth as a baby born in a barn – is richer and deeper than mere Exmas

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