• December 22, 2022
  • Chuck Osborne

The Christmas Spirit

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the old city knew…. And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” ~ “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens

This excerpt is from the end of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but as I am sure we all know, that is not how the story started. No, the story started with Scrooge referring to Christmas as a “humbug.” He was a grouchy, greedy, lonely, miserable man. The three spirits of Christmas changed him.

Maybe the spirit of Christmas can do the same for us. Two stories that came across my desk this week have given me a bit of a humbug feeling this Christmas. The first was from ESPN. Army has one of the best linebackers in the country: Andre Carter II. He is not only an All-American but also projected to be a high draft pick in the NFL. Traditionally, those who attended a service academy are required to then serve in the military immediately, but in 2019 the Trump administration passed an exception for cadets who are drafted to play professional sports. These select few are allowed to defer their service so they can play their sport professionally while still young enough to do so. Evidently, there was already an exception for Olympic athletes.

Congress has proposed repealing this change and once again forcing cadets to go straight to military service. Obviously, Carter was very upset. He wants to serve his country, but he also wanted to play in the NFL. For the last three years the rules have said he could do both, and now as his college football career is ending, the rug is being pulled out from under him. ESPN did not comment on the congressional motivation to change this rule, but they did include a comment from Carter’s mother, who said it shouldn’t matter who signed a law, that we should just do the right thing – the suggestion being that Congress is changing the rules for this All-American football player just because it was Donald Trump who made the rule.

Speaking of All-Americans, The Wall Street Journal reports on Stanford University’s “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative.” American is one such harmful word; we are to say US Citizen. We are no longer to say that the market is going “gangbusters,” because that glorifies law enforcement; nor are scientists allowed to conduct a “blind study,” because that “unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.” I would say that Stanford has mastered the art of being absurd, but I am no longer allowed to use the word master (except when quoting Dickens, of course).

On the other coast, Wake Forest (who just beat Duke! Go Deacs!) has two UK citizens playing on their basketball team. Not sure it will happen, but should they qualify for the list previously known as All-American, will they now be on the “All-US Citizen” list, even though they are not citizens? Isn’t busting up gangs a good thing?

My father once described my youngest sister as being an incredibly positive person, but not delusional. His explained that if it was raining outside, she would still be smiling and saying something like, “We can still have fun.” She would not claim that it wasn’t raining. Likewise, it seems to me that there is a huge difference between having a positive attitude towards people with a disability and suggesting that their disability is not actually out of the norm or difficult to overcome. Many reading this may be traveling over the Christmas holiday; if so, I’m sure they will be glad to fly with an airline that promotes an “ableist culture” when hiring pilots.

How does the administration at a university as highly regarded as Stanford have time to police words? Well, there are 15,750 of them and they only have to supervise 2,288 actual professors who teach the 16,937 students. If one took math at Stanford, then she could tell you that faculty and staff outnumber the students by 1,101, at least until next year when they launch “The Elimination of Harmful Math Facts Initiative.” I’m sure pointing out where those tuition dollars go would be harmful. It might even unintentionally promote an ableist culture in which a small fraction of the current number of administrators might do a better job running the university due to being competent. I didn’t look it up, but I’ll assume the word competent is banned as well.

Changing rules out of dislike for the person who made the rule? Policing language in a way that would shock Orwell himself? Raising the cost of education to the point where employees outnumber the customers? Humbug! It is easy to look at what is happening in our society and become a Scrooge.

Except: This is Christmas, a time of hope. We celebrate Christmas at the winter solstice because it is literally the time of year in the northern hemisphere when light starts to come back into our days. We live in a society obsessed with punishing and silencing those with whom we disagree, yet Christmas celebrates the birth of a child who was destined to be tortured and crucified, and upon that cross prayed that his perpetrators be forgiven.

The spirit of Christmas has already visited Congress – they reversed course, and Andre Carter can now play professional football. It may take more to warm the heart of the word police, but publicizing the incredible bloat of higher education may be the first step in reversing this destructive course. At this time of the year, above all others, perhaps we can find the grace to listen to our fellow man instead of silencing him. Meanwhile, regardless of your beliefs or background, I truly hope that you are well and happy on December 25. Therefore, even though I’m sure it is against the Stanford language code, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas! In the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Merry Christmas!

Chuck Osborne, CFA
Managing Director