Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?
Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.
Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.
By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.
Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.
In Their Rooms — Photographer Ashley Gilbertson preserves the memory of the fallen soldiers of Iraq and Afghanistan by taking pictures of their bedrooms.
… The need to see America’s twenty-first-century war dead, and to make them seen—to give their absence presence—has consumed Ashley Gilbertson for much of the past decade. The initial impulse was purely personal. While he was working as a photojournalist in Iraq, a Marine stepped forward to protect him, and was killed; and Gilbertson was haunted by the feeling that Lance Corporal Billy Miller, in doing what he understood as his duty, had died for him.
In the appalling immediacy of his experience, Gilbertson came to recognize a general truth: that, like it or not, these wars really are ours—they implicate us—and when our military men and women die in far off lands, they do so in our name. He wanted to depict what it means that they are gone. Photographs of the fallen, or of their coffins or their graves, don’t tell us that. But the places they came from and were supposed to go back to—the places they left empty—do tell us. So, to picture death, Gilbertson decided to picture how and where the dead had lived. He set about photographing their bedrooms, many of which had been preserved by their families in much the same spirit that Gilbertson preserved them with his camera: as memorials.
Some rooms are starkly spare; some explode with personality. There is a lot of sports gear and memorabilia; there are not a lot of books. There are rooms that belonged to people blown up by IEDs, and rooms that belonged to people who were blown up by suicide bombers. The only room that is in real disarray—bedclothes scrambled, belongings spilling from bags—belonged to Private Danny Chen, who took his own life in Afghanistan. Seen all together, Gilbertson’s photographs defy any effort to seek in a room’s furnishings an echo of its former occupant’s fate. Their power lies in reminding us of the disconnect between life and death. One of the most elaborately and carefully kept rooms, nearly every inch of which is lovingly decorated, also belonged to a soldier defeated by the enemy within: Specialist Ryan Yurchison, who returned traumatized from Iraq, and took an overdose.
You can spend a great deal of time visiting each of the rooms in these photographs, studying their endless particularities. Gilbertson found these rooms all over the map: in cities, suburbs, and hinterland, scattered across the country. And since America’s story is always bigger than America, and our losses in our recent wars have been shared with NATO partners, there are rooms here from the Isle of Mull in Scotland, from Versailles, France, and from Bitetto, Italy. But one thing that all the rooms here have in common is that they belonged to young people, people just out of high school, mostly, people well on their way to adulthood but still living in their parents’ homes, sleeping in single beds, often with a teddy bear or two looking over them— like children. That is who we send to fight our wars for us, our children. Ashley Gilbertson is right: we should never lose sight of them.
Above: Marine PFC Josue Ibarra, 21, was killed by a roadside bomb on June 19, 2011, in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was from Midland, Texas. His bedroom was photographed in December, 2012. Photograph by Ashley Gilbertson/VII.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the the victory of the Mexican Army over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s a big deal in Mexico and in parts of this country with a large Mexican population, like California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico (where I had some of the best chile rellenos with enough green chile to take the top of your head off), although it meant more to some than others. I had a guy I worked with who was of Mexican descent who actually asked me, “Hey, when is Cinco de Mayo?” (We always suspected that he was a burrito shy of a full combo platter anyway.)
Here in South Florida, outside of Homestead with its large Mexican population (and some of the best food in the state), it’s not a big deal other than party time and a double margarita, the same way this multiethnic community deals with other national holidays like St. Patrick’s Day; we don’t really know why we celebrate it (as if defeating the French in a battle was like a huge military victory in the first place), but any excuse to eat and drink is good enough, so why fight it?
March 1 is St. David’s (Dewi Sant) Day, the patron saint of Wales (“Cymru”). Notable people of Welsh descent include Richard Burton, poet Dylan Thomas, and me on one side of the family.
The title is a literal translation of “Long live Wales!” courtesy of an on-line English to Welsh translation service.
Here’s the national anthem, and a phonetic version of the lyrics so you can sing along:
My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree
Glad farts and centurions throw dogs in the sea
I could stew a hare here, and brandish Don’s flan.
Don’s ruddy bog’s blocked up with sand.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.
Today is Presidents Day, the federal holiday mashed together to honor Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday which used to be holidays on their own. This one generically honors all presidents, and it’s a mid-winter break for schools and a day off for those of us who work in them.
The only thing I have planned is getting the Pontiac washed and ready for the AACA national winter meet in Port St. Lucie next Saturday.
Today is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.
For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960′s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.
Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.
There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone. Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.
For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.
I took this picture at Northport Point, Michigan, forty-one years ago with my then-new Yashica TL-E SLR and a roll of Tri-X Pan film that I had bummed off a friend. I was hurrying home in the late afternoon — it gets dark really early up there this time of year — and it was really cold, so I just pointed and clicked. I was surprised how well it turned out, and still am.
Anyway, other than my usual ALNM post later tonight, this is my last post for the year. I’m planning a very quiet night at home with the Engstrom family (the subject of my current novel-in-progress) and I’m going to avoid the outdoors because people have a nasty habit of shooting off fireworks and firearms to celebrate, and you never know where they – neither the ordnance or the people — will land. So I’ll say it now: Happy New Year, Friends. Stay safe and warm and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.
It started raining last night during the Christmas Feast and hasn’t let up yet, and I don’t think there’s a corollary here in Florida for “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”
Anyway, we had a wonderful time last night courtesy of Bob and the Old Professor, joined by close friends Dan and Kathy, Ira and Susan, and Bill and Terri, sharing a great meal and good times. I am very grateful to have such good friends.
I hope you had a good time yesterday with your friends and family if you celebrated. What did you do?
Today is Boxing Day. In countries and places with a British heritage, it’s an official holiday when, according to Wikipedia, “servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box”, from their bosses or employers.” Hmm. I don’t have any servants, and I already got a box of chocolates from my boss, so I guess I’ll just hang out around the house and catch up on a crossword or two.