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» 2012 » December

Monthly ArchiveDecember 2012

Commentary & Movies 27 Dec 2012 03:00 pm

Sacking Santa


Boss: Santa, could I see you in my office for a minute?

Santa: Certainly, but I hope not for too long. It’s Dec. 27 and I’m exhausted from flying around the world and leaving presents for all good boys and girls. I’m ready for a long winter’s nap … and football.

Boss: That’s what I’d like to talk to you about.

Santa: Football? Hey, I know gambling on the workshop floor is prohibited. That Steelers/Browns thing a few weeks back was just a friendly wager between me and Sparkles the Elf. Won’t happen again.

Boss: It’s not that. See, it’s about your position here.

Santa: Position?

Boss: Yes. The board and I have been looking at our cash flow over the past quarter and weighing it against some rather hefty capital expenditures …

Santa: I’d hardly call some carrots for the reindeer and decent housing for the elves “hefty capital expenditures.”

Boss: From your perspective, perhaps. From ours, we barely made 3 percent more profit than last year, and that gets the stockholders jumpy. And when the stockholders get jumpy, the board gets jumpy. So …

Santa: You’re letting me go?

Boss: Letting you go? Goodness, no. You and your image are huge assets to the company. Why, in merchandising alone, that red hat, white beard and “Ho! Ho! Ho!” make us billions. See, Nick … I can call you Nick, can’t I?

Santa: I suppose.

Boss: Nick, we just plain can’t afford to have you working only one day a year.

Santa: One day a year? But what about all the mall appearances? And a shopping season that starts in October? I’ve worked the last three months without a single day off and with no extra pay.

Boss: Well, have we required that from you, Nick?

Santa: No, not exactly. I mean … it comes with the territory, I guess.

Boss: Exactly. Now about these changes: Effective immediately, you will also double as Father Time on New Year’s Eve.

Santa: But that’s Bob’s job!

Boss: Bob has been … let go.

Santa: You fired him?

Boss: No, we … right-sized him. Now, he weighs less than you, but with a little squeezing, his 2012 sash should just about fit.

Santa: Hrrrmph. Why not put me in the Baby New Year role while you’re at it?

Boss: Some on the board wanted to do exactly that, but the diaper’s too small. And while we’re at it, you’ll also be playing the role of Uncle Sam on the Fourth of July. Weight is a definite issue there, and since we subcontracted this job through the U.S. Department of Defense, we’ll need you to shed, say, 200 pounds between now and June.

Santa: But, but …

Boss: I know, I know … your image as a jolly old elf will be irreparably harmed if you stay thin. The good news is that between July 5 and July 25 — Christmas in July, you know — you’ll be mandated to put the weight back on.

Santa: Now just you wait a minute! I have rights too, you know? What about my contract? Santa’s a team player and all, but this is going too far!

Boss: Oh, you think so? Well, pursuant to Santa Claus Clause 102.7 — the so-called Insanity Clause* — the corporation has the right to modify your contract at any time, with no advance notice, and no input from you!

Santa: But … but … how can this be? I’ve always been a good employee! I’ve let millions of little kids sit on my knee and rub their sticky fingers through my beard! I’ve stuffed myself down chimney after chimney and never complained when the walls were stuffed with asbestos.

I’ve ruined my health eating dozens of sugar cookies left beside glasses of milk! I’ve even smoked that ridiculous pipe in defiance of the surgeon general’s warnings! How can you do this to me?

Boss: It’s easy, Santa. See, the company has reorganized and moved its home offices to Michigan. Merry Christmas, at-will employee! Now, let’s talk about Mrs. Claus, shall we? She’s been quite the drain on our self-funded health care plan this year …

@cschillig on Twitter

* Thanks to the Marx Brothers for this.

Commentary & Media & education 20 Dec 2012 04:16 pm

Wrong lesson learned from Sandy Hook

It didn’t take long — hours, really — before horror over last Friday’s school killings in Connecticut turned into a rush to judgment and reform.

Americans took to Facebook, Twitter and blogs first to express shock, sorrow and condolences, and, soon after, opinions about why the 20-year-old shooter decided to turn an elementary school into an abattoir.

Some blamed the news media for a supposed focus on violence and sensationalism, noting that networks are quick to swoop in and fixate on numbers — 20 dead children, seven dead adults, plus the shooter himself — and compare them to other school tragedies in Columbine, Virginia Tech and, closer to home, Chardon. By sharing body counts, goes this school of thought, the media has created a twisted Top 10 to which other sick individuals will aspire.

Others looked to the removal of prayer in the schools. Conservative radio host Bryan Fischer said that God turned his back on the children at Sandy Hook Elementary because America has kicked Him and His commandments out of public schools. The only way to regain God’s protection, he said, is for school boards to authorize the return of prayer, even in defiance of the Supreme Court.

Still other bloggers and posters blamed gun laws, with the left calling them too lax and the right calling them too strict. Legislators have been too focused on the economy and the looming fiscal cliff to worry overmuch about gun control, an issue that polarizes Americans. Some opined that if teachers were allowed to carry guns, they could better protect their students in such situations.

A few thoughts:

  • The media does fixate on certain stories, sometimes to the point of distorting their significance. While the situation at Sandy Hook undoubtedly deserved coverage, the nonstop barrage may have obscured the fact that, statistically, schools are still one of the safest places for kids. By contrast, one of the most dangerous places, motor vehicles, receives scant coverage.
  • Individual prayer has not been removed from public schools. Students are free to bow their heads for moments of silence or to organize prayer groups to meet before and after classes. Schools may not compel students to pray. And the thought of a God who would purposely turn his back on children because of any policy instituted by adults, as Fischer suggests, should be repulsive to people of all faiths.
  • I may have my membership as a card-carrying liberal revoked for saying this, but stricter gun-control laws would not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooter, who murdered using guns owned legally by his mother. What will help in the future is a greater focus on gun safety and on the importance of keeping firearms locked away, with ammunition stored separately, and with keys hidden from all but the person who legally owns the weapons.
  • Of course, this greatly detracts from the usefulness (if that’s the right word) of firearms in an emergency situation, since most home intruders will not wait for a gun owner to unlock a gun cabinet, load a weapon, take aim and fire, which is why firearms in the home create a false sense of security and likely aren’t practical or helpful.
  • In the wake of 9/11, law-abiding Americans lost many freedoms because of well-intentioned but overzealous attempts to protect us from terrorism. The Patriot Act, parts of which were reauthorized, was too broad and too intrusive. We would be foolish to trample the Second Amendment to enact feel-good gun-control legislation that may not do anything to make Americans truly safer.
  • I am a teacher and would never carry a gun in my classroom even if I were legally permitted. I’ve read too many studies that indicate fatalities are more likely when both parties have weapons. Just as important, the presence of a gun on my person would fly in the face of the message I try to instill in my students — that reason and thought trump violence.
  • Mental-health services are always among the first to see a decrease in funding in tough economic times, yet the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses notes that one in 17 people in this country has schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Statistically, the mentally ill are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population, but a small number who are denied medications and services could turn to violence — against themselves or others — as a coping mechanism. Better to shore up compassionate services to this underserved segment of society than waste time in a fruitless battle to change gun-control laws that would affect only law-abiding citizens.

The killings in Connecticut may be a wake-up call, but if they rouse us only to the same tired rhetoric, then the tragedy is even greater. After all, in 100 percent of violent scenarios, the weapon of choice is the human mind.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Dec. 20, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 13 Dec 2012 11:03 pm

A tale of two patients

I knew it was coming.

I woke up Saturday with a scratchy throat, sinus drainage and a pounding headache. For most of the day, I ignored my symptoms and soldiered through, pretending I wasn’t getting sick. By sundown, however, I was looking for the license number of the truck that hit me. I crawled in bed early and slept fitfully.

On Sunday morning, I felt no better and started weighing options. In the coming week, I had zero time to see my doctor, nor did I have the luxury at semester’s end to take off a day to recuperate from anything less than full-bore cardiac arrest. *

My best option, I decided, was an immediate care center in Louisville, where I waited for almost two hours before having my throat swabbed (no strep, thankfully), coughing a few times for the doctor, and leaving with a prescription to fill.

The line at the pharmacy was long both to drop off and, an hour later, to pick up. Lots of sick people, apparently. By Sunday night, I was feeling better, maybe because the medicine worked that quickly, maybe because of the much-underrated placebo effect, maybe both.

Seeing a doctor and filling a prescription are no-brainers because I am one of the fortunate Americans with health insurance. For the working poor without such benefits, the scenario would play out differently.

Without insurance, I would wait out symptoms instead of going to the doctor, ransacking the medicine cabinet for over-the-counter remedies or some half-finished prescription from years past. The latter is less effective and dangerous, but when money’s tight, you do what you must.

I wouldn’t want to take a day off work because if my job were part time or low-paying or both, I likely wouldn’t have the luxury of sick time. Instead, I would muddle through as best I could, hoping co-workers would cover for me as I had for them when they were sick.

Without timely medical care, it would almost certainly take me longer to recuperate, during which time I could infect friends, co-workers and family. Getting my kids sick is a double-whammy, because then I’d have to take time off to care for them, which would further hurt my finances, or find somebody reliable to watch them, which is sometimes problematic.

If the infection settled in my lungs, I could end up with pneumonia, which could send me to the emergency room. Without insurance, I could rack up a considerable bill there, much more than the cost of a routine office visit back when my symptoms were limited to coughing and a tightness in the chest. Maybe the hospital would write me off as a charity case, or maybe it wouldn’t.

My debt could climb, leading me to a second, third or even fourth part-time job to stay solvent. Likely, I would put off routine checkups, meaning conditions that could be caught earlier wouldn’t be, leading to longer illnesses and a further erosion of my finances and my quality (and length) of life.

It’s a vicious, rotten cycle, and it comes from our curious belief that health care is a benefit and an entitlement, but not a right.

Analysts like to throw around numbers to demonstrate how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will destroy health care as we know it and how it’s impossible for the system to remain solvent if we suddenly provide insurance for 94 percent of Americans. Doctor shortages, higher prices and the ascendency of hospitals and bureaucracies over physicians have all been threatened. Scare tactics, all.

Yet if the people in charge of implementation at the state and federal levels drag their feet, obfuscate, and throw up roadblocks at every turn, instead of working proactively to make changes work and fix a flawed piece of legislation which was, after all, the best that could be passed given the political climate of the time, then failure is virtually assured.

We are the United States of America, which found a way to spend $695 billion on the military in fiscal year 2011 alone, so we can surely find a way to implement a law that will provide medical care to the vast majority of the nation. If that means taxes must go up, mine included, then so be it.

Because — bottom line — health care for all is the responsible, moral, right thing to do.

Being sick is no fun. Being sick without insurance is worse.

*Update: Pride goeth before a fall. I ended up back at the doctor’s later in the week, diagnosed with flu, and flat on my back for several days. It turns out my body didn’t care about my work schedule at all.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Dec. 13, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Media & Television 07 Dec 2012 07:45 am

Apocalypse now?



The end is coming too late to do me any good.

According to wackadoodles on the Internet, the world will cease this Dec. 21 in fulfillment of a Mayan prophecy older than Calgon’s ancient Chinese secret for white shirts. These fun-loving folks believe — or pretend to believe — that the rogue Planet X (or Nibiru or Eris) is waiting for this date to gobsmack our own planet, ending life as we know it — and beating that other impending doomsday scenario, the Fiscal Cliff, by a good two weeks.

When I hear references to Planet X, I can’t help but think of the scene in “Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century,” where Porky, the “eager young space cadet,” shows Daffy Duck that finding the mysterious Planet X is as easy as following planets A, B, C, etc. (all helpfully marked with gigantic white letters visible from space) to their inevitable conclusion.

The inevitable conclusion for any thinking person is that, if a real-life Planet X existed, astronomers surely would have spotted it decades ago, unless it’s playing hide-and-go-seek behind the moon (I hate when it does that), holding off until the winter solstice to jump out and smash into us.

Intentionally malicious planets, like crazy ex’s, are really hard to predict, after all.

Anyway, the end of the world on Dec. 21 is too late for me because, by then, my personal world already will have been disrupted by Planet Xmas. In case the world doesn’t stop spinning, all my gifts will be purchased (and in case it does, I will have purchased them all on credit); the tree will be trimmed; and my wife’s 1,327 gingerbread decorations will be lugged from the attic by her carthorse husband and installed in locations strategically selected to cause toe-stubbing and one-legged hopping and cursing in the dark.

I’ve already promised some of my classes that if the world ends, I will bring them doughnuts the next day; and if it doesn’t, they owe me some sweets on Dec. 22. Some have reminded me that we aren’t in school Dec. 22, anyway, which is another reason why I hope next apocalypse comes earlier in the year. Preferably a Wednesday. Monday is bad enough without armageddon to contend with, Tuesday is just Monday with slightly less angst, Thursday is too close to the weekend, and everybody knows that Americans don’t do anything extra on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. No, Wednesday would be best, maybe right after lunch.

And, really, ending the world just before Christmas is pretty rotten. By Dec. 21, most of us will have suffered through the worst parts of the holiday — which includes, musically, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” and those dogs that bark “Jingle Bells”; cinematically, Jim Carrey’s turn as the Grinch; and literarily (?), dozens of not-so-clever parodies of “The Night Before Christmas” and those silly family update letters stuffed in Christmas cards — and will be ready for the highlight of the holiday: one brief day of rest before we take back all the junk that other people gave us, tear down decorations and get ready for Valentine’s Day.

No, ending the world on Dec. 21 is notoriously bad planning. I’d like to give those ancient Mayans a piece of my mind, but I have something more important to worry about: It turns out that the world’s supply of Alludium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom, is alarmingly low.

Where’s Duck Dodgers when you need him?

Chris Schillig’s wife, Holly, wants the world to know that she figured out how to light the prelit Christmas tree this year just before Chris threw the darn thing out the door. You can reach the holiday grump at

or @cschillig on Twitter.

Originally published on Dec. 6, 2012, in The Alliance Review.