Thursday, November 12, 2015

Holiday Madness

The following article appeared in the Wilmington News-Journal, a newspaper in Delaware. I'm sharing it because it says everything I want to say about the holiday madness.
The phony 'War on Christmas' is back
Petula Dvorak

Like everything connected to Christmas, this year's "War on Christmas" freakout has arrived early. And it has taken the form of a red Starbucks 'cup'.
Never mind that stores across America are already playing Christmas carols.
Forget that Wal-Mart started its holiday layaway plan in August, and Target  rolled out the Christmas trees alongside Halloween decorations in September.
And let's pretend that radio stations across the country aren't getting angry calls about Mariah Carey's Christmas list hitting the airwaves the first week of October.

Nope. The Christmas crusaders are certain that the War on Christmas is on  yet again. It's totally obvious because Starbucks is serving pumpkin spice lattes and caramel macchiatos in plain red 'cup's this holiday season. (Oops. Did I say "holiday"?)

Starbucks won't feature tree ornaments or snowflakes or reindeer like it did  on its old winter 'cup's. Because those totally said birth of Jesus, right?
This year's design is a simple red ombre that goes from poppy on top to cranberry on the bottom.
So without pictures of snowmen or a nutcracker or wreaths, Starbucks must  hate Jesus, and some evangelical Christians joined in an online assault on  the coffee goliath this week.

 The devout went wild. One after another, folks declared on Facebook and  other social media that they've had their last nonfat vanilla latte.
One pastor urged caffeinators who didn't want to boycott Starbucks to tell  baristas that their names are "Merry Christmas" when they order their  drinks, forcing them to write it (probably "Mary Krysmus") on their 'cup's. And when the caramel macchiato is ready? They HAVE to say "Merry Christmas! Ha! Double gotcha. Take that, "Happy Holidays" subversives across the land.

This? This is what Christmas is all about?
I'm willing to concede that there is a war on Christmas. The real Christmas.
If Christmas is about honoring the birth of an impoverished child to a homeless couple who must eventually flee a tyrant to keep their baby safe, then, yes, there is a war on Christmas.
If Christmas is about peace, joy, generosity, thankfulness and goodwill  among people, then yes, there is a war on Christmas.

But this Starbucks frenzy is a faux war on a faux Christmas. In a country where 15 million children sometimes don't have enough to eat, how could any real Christian conclude that the color of coffee 'cup's deserves their outrage? Only in honor of the faux Christmas.

In a nation where 22 percent of our children live in poverty, why would any churchgoer care about a local shopping mall's decision to go with "glacier"  themed decorations this winter instead of red/green/Santa/trees? Only in  honor of the faux Christmas.

Across the globe, children are walking hundreds of miles to escape unspeakable violence, and red 'cup's are supposed to command our attention  and advocacy? Only in honor of the faux Christmas.

The trappings of this country's corporate Christmas are being shoved down  our throats earlier every year. Faux Christmas creep is real. How about if we declare a war on that Christmas?
Instead, American consumers are gobbling it up. The National Retail Federation says that more than 40 percent of Americans begin their holiday  shopping before Halloween.

Thanksgiving? What Thanksgiving?

The retailers have figured out how to deal with all the anti-Black Friday  campaigns. Don't want to storm the stores the day after Thanksgiving? Fine,  do it the day after Halloween!
Until Americans spend about $630 billion on cranberry sauce (that's what  consumers dropped on holiday shopping last year), the earnest ‪#‎respectthebird‬ campaigns have no shot at success.

The real question isn't whether there's a war on Christmas. It's which war  we ought to be waging in the name of Christmas.

I'll have a Venti red-eye, please. The name is Petula. And hold the carols,  please.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Neglected Irish History Lesson

Too many of us were taught in school that is was a failure of the potato crops that caused the Great Irish Famine. The truth is that while there was a blight that wiped out the potatoes, the other crops were turning out high yields. The problem was that all the good crops were being exported to England while the people who raised them were literally starving to death.

I'm not sure exactly when, but sometime in England's history the rulers there decided that Ireland belonged to Great Britain, and so they could rightfully claim all the land and the produce for themselves, but the people living there didn't matter that much.

During the reign of King James I, England was declared a Protestant nation and Catholicism was outlawed. Ireland, being separated from England and Scotland  by the Irish Sea,  did not get included in the Protestant Reformation that went through the rest of Europe.  To the English this meant the Irish were little more than primitive savages who would be better off under English rule, such as the natives of India and Africa, even though these people are white like they are, and their nearest neighbors.

Leaving out a whole lot of details that would only make sense to English bureaucrats anyway, the English eventually managed to establish themselves as the owners of the homes where families have been living for many generations, and therefore able to charge them rent if they were to continue to live there. The Irish people grew their own food, and were highly skilled at it, and didn't have much need for money, so they could only pay in produce. The land was highly fertile, the people accustomed to self-sufficient agriculture, and the English saw an opportunity for gain.  They decided they would export all the produce to England for a tidy profit, and allow the peasants to keep only the potatoes for themselves.

The potato, introduced from the New World, proved to be highly successful in the cold damp climate of Ireland, and required only a single acre to produce enough to feed a whole village. Unfortunately the one species of potato they chose to grow, known as the Irish Lumper, was not resistant to a disease that was unknown at the time. Phytophthora infesans, better known as "The Blight." It was thought to be a fungus but is actually a fungus-like plant pathogen called an oomycete, or oomycota, which means "egg fungus." This is what caused the crop failure of the potato, but not what caused the people to starve to death. 

During the first winter of the Irish Potato Famine (1846-47) almost 4000 ships carried food to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, and London, about 17 million pounds of  grain, flour, livestock, bacon, ham, poultry, and eggs, while 400,000 people died of starvation, the very people whose labor had produced the food. People back in England could not believe there was a famine in Ireland when they were receiving so many shiploads of food from there. What they did not understand was that the people were not allowed to eat any of that food themselves.

People were reduced to eating grass in desperate attempt to stay alive, but unlike horses and cows, human bodies cannot digest grass. Children were seen with green stains around their mouths. Workers were literally dropping dead carrying food to the harbors for export, food that they had raised, food that could have kept them alive, food they were not allowed to have.

It was a long time before the English rulers considered any relief efforts to feed the starving people who had brought them such wealth, even as their corpses were seen on the roadsides. Still, any talk of charity was discouraged for fear of making the Irish "dependent on hand-outs, lest they become idle."

How many American politicians still follow that kind of logic today?

No other people have been known to work harder than the Irish, as was demonstrated in America during the building of the railroads. As for the fear of "idle hands doing the devil's work," most anthropologists will tell you that any people fortunate enough to have any time for other than survival related  activities are less likely to commit crime than they are to commit art.

By the time the famine ended in 1852, an estimated one million people had died in Ireland and another million had fled the country. Many also died on the "coffin ships" due to disease before reaching their destination. Those who did make to America alive were subject to fear and prejudice, no doubt perpetuated by the English to blame the victims for the misfortunes which they themselves had given them. 

We talk about the cruelty white people have committed toward people of other races. Few of us seem to be aware of how cruel we have been to other white people.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Modern American Racism

Growing up in Washington, DC during the 1960s, I thought I had seen racism at its ugliest.
I was wrong.
The ugliest examples of racism can be seen in the old black & white photos of lynchings that seemed to be quite popular in the deep south about a century ago. They were so popular, in fact, that they were even made into post cards.
Or how about the pictures we saw in Life Magazine of the police beating black people on the streets of Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, for wanting to eat at a white diner? Remember the fire hoses knocking people over, or the police dogs  tearing their clothes? This was going on during the 60s when I was growing up.
Most of us look at images like that and heave a sigh of relief. Aren't you glad those days are over?
Um, maybe not quite.

At a tender young age I recall seeing the race riots live, from my window overlooking the street where I lived, after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.  We were afraid to go to school, or to work, or to the store. We were afraid to outside at all.  It was looking awful scary out there. I saw National Guard soldiers carrying rifles with bayonets marching along the street right outside my house. Memories like that tend to stay with you a long time.

So now "the colored folks" as we used to call African Americans back then, can eat in our restaurants, go to our schools, and do everything else the rest of us do, and we feel we are so much more civilized now than we used to be.

But what happened after we got our first black president?
President Obama has done so much good for our country, and yet there are those who want to get him impeached. This pisses me off! People have the audacity to call him "the worst president ever" after having a president who doubled the deficit and committed war crimes he still needs to answer for.  Our current president has done wonders for our economic recovery, but the Republicans don't want to give him any credit for it. Could it be because he's black? (and also a  Democrat?) Yeah, that's what I think. Remember which party it was that supported the Civil Rights Movement.

Back in August, racism once again reared it's ugly head in the streets of America, starting with Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After that there were more blacks being killed by police, such as Eric Garner,  John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, and even a 12-year-old kid named Tamir Rice.  Each time the police not only got away with it, but some were even cheering for them!
Now I'm not going to say all police are bad. Although I have seen many who are very bad, I have seen just as many who are very good.  I can say the same about any demographic of people. Sure, there are good and bad in all of us, and that I'll never deny.
But it surely sickened me when the people defending the police have never expressed any sympathy or regret for the people they killed, or for their families.
It grieves my heart to discover that we haven't progressed as much as we like to think.

Recently I have read a book called "Death of a King" by Tavis Smiley.

There was a conflict between Dr. King and Malcolm X that caught my attention.
Malcolm claimed that Dr. King's pacifism would only work if our government had a conscience, which it does not. Dr. King always hated to hear the chants of "Kill Whitey!"  Stokely Carmichael did not always agree with Dr. King, but he believed they all needed to work together for the common cause. Sometimes I wonder if maybe Malcolm X was right, but I tend to agree with John F Kennedy when he said...

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not all Christians are Stupid

You may find this hard to believe, and I really don't blame you. The truth is that the people we're most likely to think of when we think "Christian" are the ones who scream the loudest, wave their Bibles in the air (instead of reading them) condemn innocent people to hell, and support the worse politicians we can imagine. Instead of Christians, let us call them "Fundamentalists." Such people claim to be True Christians, but there is nothing true about them.

The Christians who have a handle on reality, practice acts of charity, and have a pretty good idea about what the Bible actually does say, tend to be very quiet. You won't  find them standing on a soapbox  screaming at people, or on TV trying to con money out of you. They'll probably just smile at you when you pass them on the street. They may wish you a good morning, and actually mean it. Rarely will you ever hear them preach.

The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 was not so much a debate between Science and Religion, as it was a debate between the Fundamentalists and the Modernists.  The Modernist are the intelligent Christians that we see everywhere, but don't recognize them as Christians, just nice people who are polite and courteous. And they actually do outnumber the Fundies, but are too modest to tell you that.

Modernists believe the Bible is an Allegory, especially the Old Testament, and most of all the book of Genesis. "Allegory" may not be a word you learned in school, but it's a good word to know and understand. It's not a giant reptile we find in the swamps of Louisiana. Here is the dictionary definition;
1. The use of characters or events to represent ideas or principals in a story, play, or picture.
2. A story, play, or picture in which such representation occurs.
(Greek - allegorein, interpret)

The Fundies, by contrast, believe the Bible is the unerring Word of God, meant to be taken literally in its modern English translation, if not the King James Version. An intelligent person who has actually read the Bible knows such a notion is completely insane.

Allow me to demonstrate. If you have a Bible, open it to the first page. Genesis chapter one, page one. If you don't have a Bible, never mind, just read this.  On the FIRST day God created LIGHT.
"And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night."

Jump ahead to the FOURTH day, and we find that God created the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. Okay, does anyone see an error yet?  How did there get to be a day and night on Earth before there was a Sun? If you can answer that, see if you can explain how all the plants God created on the THIRD day managed to grow and cover the Earth without the Sun.

And we're not even finished with the first page yet. After all the birds, fish, and animals God created Man, and He created him Male and Female! (Gen 1:27) Thus as how God created all the animals so that they could multiply.
Somehow we managed to miss that.
Moving on to Chapter Two, we find the story of Creation retold in a more condensed version, with considerable differences that some of us have managed to ignore, not the least of which is that this time when God created Man, he created only a male, and decided to add a female sometime later. Perhaps we should have given that a little more thought also.

To the Modernist, there is no conflict here, as this is allegorical. The book of Genesis was written by humans. Inspired by God as they may have been, they were still ancient humans with a limited knowledge of science, and were doing the best they could with what they knew.

I went to a Catholic school and this was explained to us in the 7th grade when they taught about the Neanderthal Man and the Cro-Magnon  Man. "Which one was Adam?" was a question that was often asked. Catholic school teachers were able to explain this to kids barely into adolescence, but modern Fundamentalists still have a problem with it.

The Scopes Trial, I was told, had settled that argument long ago, when people didn't know any better like we do now, and now we must move on with our new scientific knowledge. After all, God gave us intelligence, and it must have been for a reason.

Yet when I was college I was surprised to learn that "Creation vs Evolution" was still being debated. I wondered how modern people could be so primitive, especially if they were college students. I participated in the debate on the side of evolution thinking this wasn't a fair battle, so maybe we should go easy on those poor Creationists. Our side presented all kinds of scientific facts  from Ichthyology to Herpetology to Ornithology to Primatology to Anthropology and all fields of Zoology amounting to stacks and stacks of facts. The other team had only Genesis to present their case.  What we thought was a sure win resulted in a tie. Our instructor told us we deserved to win, but the judges ruled it a tie under pressure from the state, as we are a state funded school and this is the Bible Belt.

I have been hoping to find vindication for my fellow students ever since, and today I believe I found it in  the Bible itself, the same medium used by the opposing team to support their argument. I recall it was Mark Twain who said "The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible."

So remember this, boys and girls. If you believe in Evolution, it doesn't necessarily mean you're not Christian, it just means you're not stupid.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Does this gun make my butt look big?

Overheard; a conversation among friends getting ready to go out on a shopping trip.

Marge: "I can't decide which assault rifle to take. Does this AK-47 go with my purse? How about the M-16?"
Tess: "Honey, nothing goes with that purse! You so need to get a new one."
Violet: "I don't know. Maybe with the right belt, but then you'll need to get a new holster to go with it."
Marge: "Well you definitely want your belt and holster to match."
Tess: "I was thinking of a purse with a bandolier shoulder strap, and maybe a compartment for carrying extra clips."
Violet: "You never know when you'll need extra clips!"
Joanne: "Well if you're going to carry an AK-47, you have GOT to have some nice boots to go with that!"
Tess: "Honey please! That's a Russian rifle! If you want to look more American you should go with the M-16!"
Violet: "Yeah, but there's something about the AK that says you mean business!"
Joanne: "You got that right! Now about the boots..."
Marge: "I was thinking something like English riding boots."
Violet: "With a knife sheath on the side?"
Joanne: "Now THAT would be kicking!"
Violet: "What do you think of this M-1 Carbine?"
Tess: "A little out-dated, but still practical."
Marge: "I like its clean lines and low profile. It will go well with nearly any outfit."
Joanne: "Definitely! Now help me pick out a sidearm. Do you like the .45 or the 9mm?"