Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

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.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Glorious Fourth

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July — I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done. To create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917

This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Felice Cinco de Mayo

19 Mexico

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?

Pass the salsa.  But don’t build a wall.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ddyhea buchedda Cymru!

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.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday 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.

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Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Happy Boxing Day

In many parts of the world, including Canada, today is Boxing Day and it’s a holiday, too.

The name derives from the tradition of giving seasonal gifts, on the day after Christmas, to less wealthy people and social inferiors, which was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants.

The traditional recorded celebration of Boxing Day has long included giving money and other gifts to charitable institutions, the needy and people in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era.

In the United Kingdom it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their ‘Christmas boxes’ or gifts in return for good and reliable service throughout the year on the day after Christmas.[1]

The establishment of Boxing Day as a defined public Holiday under the legislation that created the UK’s Bank Holidays started the separation of ‘Boxing Day’ from the ‘Feast of St Stephen’ and today it is almost entirely a secular holiday with a tradition of shopping and post Christmas sales starting.

As mentioned, it’s also St. Stephen’s day, which, unless you’re up on your Catholic mythology, you only know about because of the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus.

At any rate, today is the day to clean up after the holiday if you celebrated or head out to the mall if you want to exchange the mystery gift or use the gift card you got from a friend at work. Or you could stay at home and nosh on the leftovers from Christmas dinner, start writing your thank-you notes.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Sense of Christmas

I’m continuing a tradition I began back when this blog was new, which is another way of saying that I’ve posted this on Christmases past.  But this year, for the first time in many years, we are almost all together as a family: three of the four kids are here with our parents, and we are also welcoming a great-grandchild to his first Christmas.  So traditions are being observed and created.

Christmas WreathWhen I was a kid, our family lived in a house with tall ceilings so we always got a Christmas tree that was at least ten feet tall – maybe taller. (It could have been less, but when you’re six or seven, it looks a lot taller.) We had tons of decorations from our family history; gingerbread decorations held together with fine wire, bubble lights that never seemed to work right, and hundreds of ornaments. We always had a debate about tinsel – I hated it, my sister wanted it. Guess who won that one. Every year we put the tree in a different room – one year in the living room, the next in the front parlor, and then in the bay window in the dining room.

That was not the extent of the decorating by any means. While my family was not particularly religious, we went all out for the season in the decor mode that would have made Martha Stewart get out of the business. This was a tradition carried on from both of my parent’s families; my father tells how his father was a meticulous hanger of the old-fashioned lead tinsel, and my mother’s family did it up to the heights of giddiness that included the tree and presents magically appearing overnight on Christmas Eve. So we had a legacy to live up to. Lights on the front porch were interwoven in the cedar roping that looped down from the eaves. There was more roping on the bannister going up the front stairs, tied on with red ribbons, and roping again around the big mirror in the front hall. Candles in Christmas candelabra filled the house with the scent of candle smoke, merging with the evergreens, and on Christmas Eve, when the big roast was in the oven for the dinner with Aunt Margaret, the house was awash with homey aromas.

We had an old-fashioned hi-fi system with speakers throughout the first floor of the house, and as we put up the tree and the roping – usually the weekend before Christmas – we would dig out the Christmas LP’s. The perennial was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Joy To the World that began with “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” That would be followed by the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas album and anything else we had in the rack.

We had two fireplaces in the house, including one in the kitchen, so that’s where we hung our stockings with care. Christmas morning would arrive and the four kids would line up, youngest first, on the back stairs, squirming with anticipation until we were let into the kitchen and a breakfast of Christmas baked treats, including a Scandinavian stollen baked by a family friend. (Never one who liked things like that, I often wished the stollen would be stolen….) Then we’d line up at the appropriate closed door behind which lay the treasure. Nearly fainting with the anticipation, the door would be flung open – a four-voiced gasp of breath, followed by pounding feet and squeals of delight. We took turns, shredding the wrapping, opening the boxes, reading the tags – “From Mom and Dad,” “From Santa,” “From Grammie.” My mother kept a list of who got what from whom so that the thank-you notes could be written. There was always one Big Present for each kid – a bicycle, skis, a train set, a kitten – and lots of books and clothes, too. And each child was sure to give his sibling something, usually something oddly appropriate; like lavender bath beads from me to my sister.

When it was all over, the trash can was filled with the wrappings, the loot taken upstairs, and new clothes tried on. I would pore through the new books until I was nagged to get dressed to go to Christmas dinner somewhere else – with cross-town relatives or the Carranor Club – and the streets would be empty as we piled into the station wagon. We’d come home in the cold and dark, tired from all the excitement, ready to come down from the sugar-spiked high. The next day we’d pack up for our annual skiing trip to Boyne Mountain in Michigan, complete with its own set of sense memories.

These traditions were carried on as we each grew up and started our own families, adding our own touches; Allen and I merged some of each to come up with our own for fifteen years, including the tree (artificial, though – he’s allergic to pine) and music. (I’ve got the Bing Crosby CD on as I write this.) My sister has passed it on to her children, and my younger brother, with his three kids, carries on much as we did when we were young.

So while there may not be a whole lot of religion in any of it, there’s the strength of the ties of family and love that surpasses any denominational definition. It is a common thread that binds us all together whether we say “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” “Felice Navidad” (which I immediately corrupted to “Fleas On Your Dad”), “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Good Kwanzaa.” It’s the sense of togetherness and hope that can be spread regardless of whether or not you celebrate the birth of the son of God, and the thankfulness that you feel that you have made it through yet another year and look forward to making the next one better.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Festivus

It’s the most grumpiest time of the year!

Festivus 12-23-14

Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 that serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season.[1] Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, who worked on the American sitcom Seinfeld, the holiday entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program.[1][2] The holiday’s celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength”, and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles”.[3]

Keep it in the family.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Little Night Music

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Originally aired on CBS on December 9, 1965 (and “brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola”), it has been shown every year since.  It switched from CBS to ABC in 2001, and tonight they’ll do it again with a special about the special at 8:00 pm ET (check local listings).  It is the only Christmas special I will watch on purpose.

Friday, November 27, 2015