Looking back at Christmas

By Lucie M. Winborne,
ReMIND Magazine

 Child star Shirley Temple and John Agar were happy newlyweds at Christmastime in 1945. Child star Shirley Temple and John Agar were happy newlyweds at Christmastime in 1945. The Puritans banned it. Our Founding Fathers weren’t too crazy about it. And Congress didn’t get around to making it an official celebration until 1870.

But you’d hardly guess it as Christmas approached. We Americans love our holiday and its traditions, most of which we take for granted and some of which emerged from the World War II era and years immediately following.

Take early shopping. Sure, it’s a way to avoid overcrowded malls and the fruitless search for parking, but in wartime, getting packages to soldiers in the Pacific by December was the main priority. Of course, gifts closer to home need a tree, no matter what it’s made of — or even what color. Futuristic aluminum models, sometimes in purple, gold, pink and black, made an appearance in postwar home décor, although their popularity took a hit after being satirized in 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. A decade later, the “back to nature” movement helped restore the real thing to favor.

Americans send over a billion Christmas cards each year, and the first such White House missive debuted in 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an amateur artist, worked personally with the head of Hallmark cards, and many of the cards sent during his office term featured his artwork. Though war-weary Americans at first preferred sentimental messages, by the 1960s, cards had taken on a more sophisticated and humorous bent, sometimes featuring elves with Beatle-inspired haircuts or Santas driving convertibles.

Gifts purchased, tree decorated and cards sent, filling our stomachs is the next priority. Would it really be Christmas without green bean casserole, created by the Campbell Soup Company as part of a promotion? Or a casual get-together without Chex Mix, said to have become a favorite when the wife of a Ralston Purina executive served it at a 1955 holiday function?

Once the goodies have been consumed, it’s time to follow Santa’s journey via the NORAD Tracks Santa service, for which we can thank a 1955 advertising error encouraging kids to call Santa Claus on a special telephone number. No doubt Col. Harry Shoup, of the Continental Air Defense, was dumbfounded to receive inquiries about the jolly old elf’s whereabouts that Christmas Eve, but, good sport that he was, he instructed his operators to give Santa’s current location to any child who called in. Three years later the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was formed, and the NORAD Tracks Santa service continues to this day.

Finally, let’s not forget our holiday soundtrack. Whether you’re bopping to “Jingle Bell Rock” or warbling “White Christmas” this month, truer words were hardly spoken than Rolling Stone magazine’s “What Jesus is to Christmas, Bing Crosby is to Christmas music.” The Irish crooner’s version of the Irving Berlin classic, ranked by Guinness as the best-selling single of all time, still brings a lump to our throats, at home or abroad.

Whatever traditions are on tap at your home this year, may they be filled with the best things the season stands for: peace, love and joy.

Did you know …

 Jane Lynch  PHOTO COURTESY OF NBCUniversal Jane Lynch PHOTO COURTESY OF NBCUniversal NBC’s popular party-time series, “Hollywood Game Night,” is set to return for its fourth season on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 8 p.m. Jane Lynch, who has won the Emmy Award two years in a row as outstanding host of a reality or reality-competition program, will once again lead the on-screen festivities. A slew of high-profile actors, athletes and recording stars will participate in the fun as they compete in hilarious party games. Two contestants are transported from their everyday lives into this once-in-a-lifetime night of fun and compete for a chance to win up to $25,000.

Ben Higgins will begin his search for that one special woman when ABC’s hit romance reality series, “The Bachelor,” returns for its 20th season on Monday, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m. What do a single mom with two young daughters, a television news anchor, a free spirit, a battle-tested war veteran and fun-loving identical twins have in common. They are all among 28 identified bachelorettes who look to capture

Ben’s heart. One by one, these gorgeous women are prepared to make a lasting impression.

The sweetest competition returns to Food Network when the new season of “Cake Wars” premieres on Monday, Jan. 11, at 9 p.m. Four bakers battle it out to create the most mind-blowing cake to star at a special event, along with a chance to take home the grand prize of $10,000. Jonathan Bennett (“Mean Girls”) is the host, and master pastry chefs Ron Ben-Israel and Waylynn Lucas will serve as judges, along with a special guest judge.

HBO will debut its concert film, “J. Cole Forest Hill Drive: Homecoming,” on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 10 p.m. One of music’s biggest stars returns home to Fayetteville, N.C., delivering a riveting performance that showcases live versions of all 13 songs on his third album. Also included are guest appearances by Jay Z and Drake.

Scholarships available for visual arts students

Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts has announced that beginning next fall, all incoming visual arts graduate students will receive scholarships equivalent to full out-of-state tuition in the first year and full in-state tuition for the second year of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program.

The scholarships reflect the school’s belief that graduate study in art should be accessible to students from a diverse range of backgrounds. Combined with private studios and the resources of a major public research university, these scholarships give students the opportunity to fully focus on their work within a stimulating and supportive community of equals.

“As a public university, we feel that critical art practice should be the focus of our graduate program and that access should be as democratic as possible,” said Gerry Beegan, chair of the Visual Arts Department. “We encourage artists to engage in a dialogue with each other, faculty, visiting artists and critics. They can also connect with our undergraduates through teaching and mentorship opportunities.”

The full-time 60-credit MFA degree program offers seminars in painting, sculpture, photography, media and printmaking. Each graduate student at Mason Gross receives private studio space that is available yearround, 24 hours a day, for the duration of their study.

Graduate students mount exhibitions in the school’s 4,000-square-foot gallery space, dedicated to showcasing student work, and follow up their final thesis show with an exhibition in New York City.

Applications for fall 2016 admission are being accepted through Feb. 1. For more information, visit www.masongross.rutgers.edu/visual-arts.

Photo

 STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The Force was strong at the Plumsted Library in Plumsted Township, Ocean County, on Dec. 16 when a celebration of all things “Star Wars” was held in conjunction with the opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Do not let terrorists taint truth behind Islam

As a Muslim U.S. citizen I want to echo the sentiment of the Muslim community that is now a target of Donald Trumps’s slander following the terrorist act in San Bernardino that is a misrepresentation of Islamic faith.

Islam promotes peaceful, tolerant and harmonious co-existence of people of all faiths. The Quran states that slaying of one innocent human being amounts to slaying of all humankind.

“Jihad” does not mean holy war. It is misunderstood, misconstrued and misapplied. Its literary meaning is “to strive” and “to exert effort” for self-purification and striving for goodness in our relationship with others.

The media’s focus on prayer beads, prayer plaques and the Quran is misleading. These articles do not contribute to the image of radical and terroristic behavior but are objects that signify a faith just as much as pictures of Christ or Mother Mary would in Christian homes. Trump’s proposition to ban all Muslims from entering the country is ridiculous and in itself, Radical. It incites, ignites, promotes and provokes fear and hatred in the hearts and minds of the civilians against their Muslim neighbors, coworkers and friends. This capitalizing approach is only adding fuel to fire rather than provide reassurance to Muslims and non-Muslims of the country alike.

So, fellow Muslims, let’s become more vocal in our support for safety, security, solidarity and peace and come together to show real Muslim, law-abiding behavior, for there is no radical Islam. There are radicals in Islam, just like in any other faith.

Nausheen Ahmed
North Brunswick

Having a good old time with Larry Black (the guy who is committed to keeping the rated-G in TV)

By Lori Acken,

 Larry Black Larry Black It’s near impossible to tune in to RFDTV’s Larry’s Country Diner and not want to climb through the screen to share some pie and sociability with host Larry Black and his cast of amiable characters as they crack wise, reminisce about classic moments in music and TV and generally have a fine time. The 70-year-old, Alabamaborn preacher’s son turned his love of music and rich baritone voice into a decades-long career as a disc jockey — during its heyday, the Larry Black Show aired on 125 radio stations across the country. Acting gigs followed on I’ll Fly Away and In the Heat of the Night and in feature films such as Ernest Goes to Camp and October Sky. Now Nashville-based, Black also serves as producer of the downhome Diner and its equally nostalgic companion series Country’s Family Reunion that give folks longing for the homespun days of Hee Haw new options. We caught up with Black to talk about keeping the rated- G in TV.

Country’s Family Reunion was your first TV venture — how did that come to be?

I was doing a project with [the Gaither Homecoming series’] Bill Gaither — a comedy album that he was producing for me — and when we finished the album, we were having dinner at Amerigo’s here in Nashville. I said to him, “What you’re doing with the Southern gospel people, we ought to do with the country beat.” This was in 1997, just before it just all broke loose for Gaither with the Homecoming gatherings that he does. He said, “I’m too busy,” so I said, “Then I’ll do it.” We got together 30 people and put them in a room. Of those 30 people, about 18 have now died. So what we really created was a piece of video history and remembrance. Grandpa Jones. Johnny Russell. Little Jimmy Dickens. It has been a real jewel — and we’ve continued to do them.

And Reunion begat Larry’s Country Diner?

Once we hit RFD-TV, I realized what the audience was and that Ralph Emery was no longer going to do his TNN show. So I thought this was a perfect time to do a different kind of talk and variety show. But I don’t like sitting in front of fireplaces to do interviews, or across couches or a desk. So, “Hmm, we’ll do a little Podunksville diner, and every day at lunchtime the local cable company — because they have nothing better to do — brings some cameras into the diner to shoot the people having lunch. The sheriff in town [played by National Musicians Hall of Famer Jimmy Capps] just happens to be a world-class guitar player, so he’ll pull up and bring his guitar in, and if anybody drops by and wants to sing, they can sing and he’ll play the guitar for them!”

Nadine is your breakout star.

Every small town has the town gossip. I’d gone to church with Nadine for about 17 years — Ramona Brown is her real name — and she did this little character for a Valentine’s party one time. So I went to her and I said, “Why don’t you go online and get the church bulletins that are all screwy, and you come in and do that? You can mess with people all you want as the church lady.” So she did that, and that character has just really blossomed. Her husband is an optometrist and she’s worked for him all of their married life. Now she goes out on weekends and will do 45 minutes worth of standup.

How do you choose your guests?

While we have the Larry Gatlins and the Vince Gills, Randy Owen of Alabama, there are other artists — Gene Watson, Moe Bandy, Jimmy Fortune — those guys say the shows just totally revived their careers, and have given them a new lease on life in terms of touring. I want to reach out, and help more artists who don’t get airplay anymore because they don’t have labels, but they still produce product. They just don’t have a way to get it to the marketplace.

Describe your audience.

Because we deal with a more mature audience, they introduce us to their kids, and to their grandkids. Then the kids and grandkids become fans. Also, we find that when we go to Branson, oftentimes there are young adults who bring their parents because they know their parents want to come see the show live, and they have become fans also. Our viewing audience is getting younger because they’ve experienced the same thing.

That’s a rarity.

That’s a joy. Bill Medley, one of The Righteous Brothers, lives in Branson and performs there as well as Vegas, and he said, “It’s so funny. You perform in Branson and you see these busloads come in and you watch the old people get out of the bus … with their parents.” I thought, that is so true, man! You have these 60- year-old people getting off the bus with their 85-year-old parents!

Football will never be the same — hopefully

In theaters now

 Alec Baldwin, left, and Will Smith huddle over football players’ head injuries and deaths in the new movie Concussion. Alec Baldwin, left, and Will Smith huddle over football players’ head injuries and deaths in the new movie Concussion. Concussion focuses on the startling discovery made by Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) while working as a pathologist in Pittsburgh. Omalu was on duty in September 2002 when the body of legendary Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse) was to be autopsied. Taking the care and methodical approach he used with all of his cases, Omalu discovered frightening facts that puzzled him.

It was those facts that led him to dig deeper — even spending his own money — to uncover why this man was lying in a morgue at age 50.

A native of Nigeria, Omalu has never found himself drawn to American football. He doesn’t realize how embedded the NFL is in American culture, and as he digs deeper into Webster’s case, he finds that the sport America adores just may have been the root of the player’s death. As more NFL athletes pass away prematurely, Omalu is able to link them all together through a condition that he comes to name chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

But the discovery of the disease is not the end of Omalu’s story. He then needs to take his discovery to the organization that is the common denominator in all the deaths: the NFL. Though he feels he is doing a great service for the players and the NFL in general, Omalu is shocked to learn that the organization is not receptive to his findings. To change the world may be easier than to change the NFL and its fans. Despite the repeated attempts to silence him, Omalu will continue to fight for what’s right until someone will listen. But will it all be too late?

I love football. I played football in high school. I play fantasy football. I cheer for my teams on a weekly basis. To have a film that takes direct aim on the game I love is tough. But after viewing Concussion, I realized that Omalu’s work is necessary to positively impact the game I love.

Will Smith delivers a powerful portrayal of Dr. Omalu. I believe him in all his naiveté of the importance of football in America. All he cares about is people, both living and dead. And it is Smith’s ability to portray Omalu as that amazingly intelligent man — one who is simply unaware of American culture — that is vital to the success of the film.

Although the film does introduce us to the science of CTE and its impact on the men in the NFL, it doesn’t go far enough. My criticism lies with the soft treatment of the men and women making decisions in the NFL. At times, the league office is seen as being uncaring and a bit threatening; the film just ends, rather than offering harsher criticism of that status. But maybe I just wanted more there, and no more needed to be said; after all, this film is more about the good Dr. Omalu than about concussions.

Dr. Bennet Omalu has a true love of all people. His desire for us all to live long and healthy lives is evident, and his hope is that the research he carried out will help all athletes become better educated about the risks they are taking. I would have loved the film to be more about football and concussions in sports — the tale weaved is full of intrigue, but we are left wanting that additional part of the story.

Thanks to the research at the heart of Dr. Omalu’s career, football will — hopefully — never be the same.

Concussion
Rated: PG-13
Stars: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Director: Peter Landesman
Grade: B

Protection Act broadens safety options

Members of 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc. applaud the recent enactment of the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015, which broadens the safety options for a greater number of survivors in New Jersey. Beginning May 2016, survivors of this most heinous crime, which includes acts or attempted acts of sexual assault, sexual contact, and lewdness, who are not eligible for a domestic violence restraining order, may apply in State Superior Court for a restraining order against the perpetrator. No criminal charges related to the incident need to be filed for a survivor, or their guardian, to apply.

Sexual assault is any sexual contact that is forced or without consent. It is a crime committed by the perpetrator whose motive is to overpower, control, degrade, and humiliate. The survivor is never at fault. More than 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone who is known to the survivor. Many survivors may fear retaliation. In Monmouth County there is help available at 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc., a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault. 180 offers 24/7 confidential hotlines, emergency shelter, family court assistance, safety planning, and trained advocates who accompany survivors at police stations, hospitals, and family court.

Information and crisis support are available by calling our sexual violence hotline at 732-264-7273 or 888-264-7273. The domestic violence hotline is 732-264-4111 or 888- 843-9262. Our website is www.180nj.org. Any man, woman, or child can be sexually victimized. There is no acceptable reason for violence and abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to us.

Anna Diaz-White
Executive Director
180 Turning Lives Around, Inc.
Hazlet

Volunteer says advances have been made

The holidays are upon us and it is the time of giving. The giving of gifts, the giving of time, the giving of goodwill, and most importantly, the giving of thanks.

As a volunteer, I want to thank every person who has supported the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Perhaps it is a donation, attending a Heart Walk, championing a healthy change or supporting your child in a Jump Rope for Heart program. No matter how you have shown support, I want you to know that you have made a difference.

Born with a congenital heart defect, I made history at the age of 2 when I became the youngest recipient of a pacemaker. Since then, I have needed several pacemaker replacements.

To date, I have undergone 104 surgeries, multiple transfusions and too many tests to count, but I am still here because of all the work that has gone into the battle against cardiovascular disease. We have seen advancements in the treatment of heart disease and strokes because of research. We have seen workplaces make a shift toward workplace wellness.

We have witnessed children saving lives because they have learned CPR. We have heard the push of making the healthy choice the easy choice for all Americans. And for me, I have been able to live a happy life.

Thank you for the support you have given and will continue to give as we move toward a day where heart disease and stroke are no more.

If you are interested in supporting the American Heart Association, consider volunteering, participating at an event, or making a donation at www.heart.org/donate

Augustine Concepcion
American Heart Association/
American Stroke Association volunteer
Ocean Grove