News of the Week: Fake Trees, Dumb Cats, and the Invasion of the Xennials

In the week ending December 8, 2017, Bob Sassone discusses the merits of fake Christmas trees, offers proof that dogs are better than cats, discusses a bookstore’s shift to (surprise!) books, and much more.

Close-up of a Christmas tree bulb hanging in a tree

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A Christmas Controversy

There are many great debates in this world: Coke vs. Pepsi, Mac vs. PC, first Darrin vs. second Darrin on Bewitched. Another one is real Christmas trees vs. fake Christmas trees. Wars have been started over less.

I could probably write a lot of controversial sentences in this column about politics or religion or current events, but I bet none will be as controversial as this one: I like artificial Christmas trees. Sorry!

It’s not like I particularly dislike real Christmas trees. They smell great and … well, actually, I can’t think of anything else beyond that. They shed their needles all over the place, you have to make sure they’re watered, and some of them can be awfully expensive. Artificial trees can be expensive too, but you can use the same one for 20–30 years. They also come in various shapes and colors, and there’s a rich history behind them. I still remember the one we had in a box in our basement when I was a kid. I think we got it at Sears. It lasted for years, and there were as many memories attached to the tree itself as the ornaments on it and the gifts underneath. And the artificial trees they make now are even more well-made and realistic-looking.

You want that real tree smell? That’s why they make air fresheners, candles, and Scentsicles.

Dogs 1, Cats 0

A Dog with glasses

Another great debate is dogs vs. cats. Relationships have been broken up by people who can compromise on every other issue except when it comes to the family pet.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have finally figured out which species is smarter, and cat people aren’t going to like the results. It comes down to how many neurons they have. Dogs have a lot more than cats do. The researchers say that the size of an animal’s brain doesn’t necessarily mean a particular animal is smart, but dog people will be happy.

I’m a dog person all the way. Will a cat fetch your paper? Will a cat save you from drowning? Does a dog do his business right in your house, like a cat? I rest my case.

More Holiday Reads

In our current issue, Amazon staffers tell us what books will make for great gifts this Christmas, including books by Jennifer Egan, Walter Isaacson, and Jeffrey Eugenides. Here are three more to add to your list:

  • Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, by Bruce Campbell. This is the third in a series of memoirs/behind-the-scenes tales from the star of the Evil Dead movies and the TV shows The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Burn Notice. He’s always a groovy read.
  • Artemis, by Andy Weir. This is the new mystery-on-the-moon novel from the author of the acclaimed The Martian, which was made into a film a couple years ago starring Matt Damon.
  • Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, by Kirk and Anne Douglas. The movie star and his wife have published many of the letters they wrote to each other over their 63 years of marriage. It’s not just a story of their relationship; there’s a lot about other Hollywood stars in there as well.

Too Many Toys

And where can you buy those books I mentioned above? A bookstore!

Barnes & Noble has decided they want to concentrate on books once again and not on the other things they currently sell, like journals, toys, and microwave ovens. Chief Executive Demos Parneros, dealing with seven straight quarters of sales declines, also wants to make the stores smaller. They’re not getting rid of the non-book items completely, but they want to narrow the number and brands they sell.

I can understand that. The Barnes & Noble where I shop is gigantic. Half of the store seems to be made of journals and toys and games and a cafe, even if they do have a huge selection of books as well. Yeah, the store does seem a little big. But I hope they don’t get rid of the cafes. If anything, make the cafes bigger and better designed, with larger tables and more comfortable chairs. If you want inspiration, look at what Border’s used to do with their cafes. Do that and I will shop at your place all the time and spend all day in the cafe drinking expensive chai.

By the way, they don’t really sell microwave ovens.

RIP John Anderson, Johnny Hallyday, and Tommy Keene

John Anderson was the Illinois congressman who ran for president as an independent against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. He died Sunday at the age of 95.

Johnny Hallyday was a huge rock star, nicknamed the “French Elvis.” He died last week at the age of 74.

Tommy Keene was a king of the alternative music world, and one of my personal favorites. He died the day before Thanksgiving at the age of 59, and his brother has written a wonderful tribute at Keene’s official site.

The Best and Worst of the Week

Best: Back in the mid-’60s, CBS ran a Christmas commercial by R.O. Blechman that many people of a certain age remember and love. It was very subtle, calming, and over a minute long, which would probably make people antsy today.

Last week the network started running a series of new holiday commercials that remind me of that ad. They’re not as long, but they have that same nice, almost Christmas-card vibe. Vimeo has all the ads in one video.

Worst: This is the recognition of a word we didn’t know existed and I’m not sure we even need: Xennials. It’s not a cholesterol medication or the name of the new Marvel movie villains; it’s the word for people sandwiched between Generation X and Millennials.

I’m sorry, but I’m never, ever using that word. It’s hard enough to remember all the terms to describe groups of people or eras, and we don’t need new ones to fill in any gaps.

This Week in History

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Premieres (December 6, 1964)

This remains a Christmas favorite that you just have to watch every year, even if Santa is kind of a jerk in it.

Pearl Harbor Bombed (December 7, 1941)

A hero on that horrible day in Hawaii, Chief Boatswain’s Mate Joseph L. George has finally been recognized by U.S. officials, and CBS had a terrific story about him this week.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Tree in Town Square (December 4, 1948)

Tree in Town Square by Steven Dohanos
Tree in Town Square
Steven Dohanos
December 4, 1948

This isn’t just one of my favorite Post covers of all time; it’s one of my favorites of any magazine ever. Stevan Dohanos not only captures the Christmas season perfectly, he captures friendly, helpful, small-town life perfectly too.

Today Is National Brownie Day

Brownies with Christmas frosting

Though we’ve settled the real vs. fake Christmas tree question, we have another debate at our family celebration: fudge-like brownies or cake-like brownies? My sister makes them every year; some of us like the former and some the latter. I’m in the fudge-like camp, but both are great because, hey, brownies!

For a Christmas-ish brownie, here’s a recipe from The Comfort Kitchen for Peppermint Candy Cane Brownies. And here’s a recipe for Eggnog Brownies from Back for Seconds.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Miracle on 34th Street Marathon (December 10)

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a site that has a roundup of all the Christmas movies, specials, and TV episodes we’ll see through New Year’s Day. At first it looked like Miracle on 34th Street wasn’t going to be shown at all, but there’s actually going to be a marathon of the 1947 classic on Sundance TV this Sunday starting at 3 p.m. That might not be a station you usually watch, but I bet you have it.

Hanukkah Begins (December 12)

The Jewish holiday starts on Tuesday and goes until the night of December 20.

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  1. Artificial trees are better than ever (as they should be). It’s good to invest in a quality tree you can reuse for years. My parents had a silver artificial tree we used from 1966 to at least the late ’70s.

    I’m not surprised dogs came out on top in the smarts department. As a dog guy, I can also say cats are cool too with their own style. I love the picture of the white bulldog wearing glasses.

    Let’s hope Barnes & Noble are successful in figuring out what will work for more expansion. Thanks for the ’66 CBS ad, and their current Season’s Greetings ads. I like them all. The Jane Pauley feature on Joe George is great. It shows important historical new info continues to come to light on Pearl Harbor and World War II even to this day.

    I love this Dohanos cover too, for the same reasons. The fudge-like brownies are preferred a little more than the cake-like, but will take either if offered.

  2. I’m snickering at Barnes & Noble’s brilliant insight that small is better for a bookstore. Who didn’t know that? Bookstores should be cramped, candlelit, with oddball design features,and about books!


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