Friday, September 30, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: On Jesus toasters, Gray Panthers, Raging Grannies, and Fun with Medicare

WARNING:  Hot graven images ahead.  Turn back if you believe Jesus' image on toast should remain a miracle and not be used as a promotion by clever, sacrilegious Vermonters for a Made in China toaster.  (It's International Blasphemy Rights Day today, but I swear I didn't know that when I chose this segment.  Not that I'm not okay with it.  I am.)

As serendipity would have it, I was thinking about making myself a piece of toast in my conventional Fire Engine Red toaster last week when I happened to glance at my newest Twitter followers and saw that "Virgin Mary Toasters" was following me.  I was about to write them off because, really, @VirginMaryToast? Why me, faGodsake?

But I bit.  I clicked.  And now I'm crazy about Vermonters Galen and Owen (AKA Virgin Mary Toasters) and their website, Burnt Impressions, Inc. They have a growing line of actual toasters that entertain with pictures, but the Rapture Toaster is my so-far all-time favorite.  (Not yet for sale.  Must be a prototype):

In Honor of Older Persons Day, October 1 (and because I'm one of them, now entering my fourth year of septuagenarian bliss) I would like to take this time to remind the (relatively) young that we're not all out there playing Bingo or whining about gas or sitting on icebergs waiting to die.

Remember the inimitable Maggie Kuhn and The Gray Panthers?  She and a small group of retired friends organized the tiny grass-roots organization, using word-play on "The Black Panthers" to suggest an aggressiveness that probably wasn't really there, first to protest the Viet Nam war, and later to protest social and economic inequities.  They're still out there doing their thing, making my heart glad, but now they've got more friends and allies.

"Speak your mind - even if your voice shakes. Well aimed slingshots can topple giants."

Now we have The Raging Grannies, with chapters all over the country and all over the world. They joined the Wall Street protesters last week when members of the Canadian-based Grannies for Peace (Not be be confused with the Granny Peace Brigade) were pepper-sprayed and arrested.

Amongst those detained were two members of New York's Grannies for Peace. Both ladies are in their 70s and they were amongst the younger people, handcuffed and corralled, into orange mesh pens, in the street. The Raging Grannies saw their friends and decided it was time to show their support too.
"We have helluva job on our hands," said 96 year old Lillian Pollak, [Raging Grannies member] as she arrived in Zuccotti Park to join the Occupy Wall Street protesters camped out there. "We thank you. This is wonderful. I was getting down in the dumps about what was going on, but you have raised my spirits."

 Note:  We Senior Citizens also have another day, called "Senior Citizens Day", that falls on August 21.  That one was signed into remembrance by Ronald Reagan, the guy who started that whole Kill Social Security thing, from the party that hates Medicare, so I'm still a little wary about that one.  Plus, I hate that phrase, "Senior Citizen" and besides that, all Reagan expected on that day was for people to be nice to their elders.  I would say it's a start, but it wasn't.  His party is still trying to kill us off early.(Reminds me of deer hunters who rave over the beauty of the animal but lust after its blood.  Very odd.)
 Cartoon of the Week:

Nick Anderson - Houston Chronicle

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Religious Test is Alive and Kicking in American Politics. Again.

As a non-religious person I have faith that religion will always be with us.  It's the way of the world, and if I'm baffled by its constancy, by its influence, by the sheer numbers of people involved, I'm even more befuddled watching the move away from any pretense at goodness and mercy in favor of a peculiar form of public political bullying by the Religious Right.

There are many churches that do good works and act as sanctuaries in a cold, cruel world.  Their congregations are loving and generous and, by the way, have no problem accepting non-believers like me. We work well together.  There is that understanding that, while our goals are the same; the paths we take to get there take a different turn.

I've hesitated to get into this, mainly because I have family and friends who are religious and I love those people.  Most of them have enough respect for me to lay off any proselytizing, but I know that a number of them can't help but pray for my damaged soul.  I'm good at pretending that's okay.  They mean well.

But what's not okay is what brings me to this:  Rick Perry.  His phony piety, his bad acting, his destructive actions as governor of Texas showing him for the hypocrite he is.  It should have been Michele Bachmann's lame and lazy preaching that capped it, but Rick Perry has finally done it for me.  His performance at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University was as loathsome as Jimmy Swaggart sobbing open-mouthed on close-up for forgiveness or Jim Bakker weeping at the loss of his empire.  Rank insincerity is what bonds them all.  The significant difference is that, so far, Jimmy and Jim haven't aspired to be president of these United States.

Billboard in South Carolina

I listen to the calls to Jesus by Presidential candidates like Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and even Ron Paul.  I see our presidents and members of congress fighting to one-up their Jesus-is-my-lord-and-savior status, and it's clear that  scrupulous avoidance of religious tests for political candidates is a thing of the past.

An avowed Atheist has never had a chance -- a fact that makes no sense in a democracy -- but even a quiet Christian wouldn't have a chance today.  If you're thinking of running for anything, you had better be out there professing your undying love of an accepted and specific God as defined by the one and only Holy Bible or forget about any future in 21st Century American politics.

This new century of ours is a puzzler.  It's suffering the worst kind of growing pains, but it's not as if it came from nowhere.  It's roots are in several centuries of ups and downs and lessons ripe for learning, yet it's as if American history is some quaint, nostalgic throwback having almost nothing to do with this modern world.

There are reasons for the need to see ourselves as a nation and not just as a country.  We're peopled with citizens as diverse as the world.  The fervent bleating of the more vocal Christian politicos cannot change the fact that not all Americans are Christians. We are not a Christian nation.  We never set out to be a Christian nation.  By clear Constitutional design,  there is no religious test for any candidate in this country.

If they can't get that one simple fact straight, one wonders what hope there is for understanding issues even more complicated.  Like the meaning of "Of the people, by the people, for the people", for starters.

Friday, September 23, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: On Butter, Blankets, and Beauty. Then There's That Cartoon.

I can't believe it's not butter!  In Wisconsin there is a law on the books that forbids restaurants, schools, hospitals and prisons from serving margarine instead of butter.  This weaker version of a 1897 law has been on the dairy state's books for 44 years but most restaurants can get around it, since the interpretation of the law these days is that if a customer asks for margarine it's okay to give it to them.  No mention of how the margarine is delivered to table -- in plain sight or disguised as something else.  (The bovine version of for "Don't ask, don't tell".)

Butter Cow

But now that we're 11 years into the 21st Century,  a few lawmakers have finally decided that that other butter is going to be around for a while.  Might as well learn to live with it.

This is pretty delicious, too:  

The margarine-butter debate has a long political history in Wisconsin, where Sen. Gordon Roseleip, R-Darlington, a strong advocate for the state's dairy industry, fervently campaigned against the butter substitute in the 1960s, saying it tasted different than butter and arguing that it wasn't healthy--until another state senator challenged him to a blind taste test and he showed a preference for margarine, uncovering the secret that his family had been sneaking the hefty congressman the low-fat substitute, according to the Daily Reporter.

 This "OMG! Someone's going to be manufacturing in America!" feel-good story last week really hit home for me. (I'll explain in a minute.)  Minnesota's Fairibault Woolen Mill is planning to re-open after a shut-down so sudden two years ago there are still unfinished blankets on the looms.
Closed since 2009, Faribault Woolen Mill Co. is beginning a new life under new owners. Gov. Mark Dayton and other officials are scheduled to attend ceremonies Thursday marking the re-opening at the historic mill purchased in June by Edina businessmen Chuck and Paul Mooty.
The plant, which dates back to the 1890s, at one time had a workforce of about 80 and produced half the woolen blankets made in the United States. The mill is resuming production with 31 workers, including some former employees, said Paul Mooty. "Our goal is to build that back to one full shift with about 50 to 60 people," he said. Extra shifts could be added, depending on demand, he said.
At a time when most textile production has moved overseas, the Faribault mill is thought to be North America's only fully-integrated facility with equipment that washes, cards, spins and weaves wool into Faribo brand blankets and throws.
(More here.)

Fairibault Woolen Mill offices - 1897
I saw the story first on a TV news program and thought it would make a good FF story.  It wasn't until I saw that "Fairibault" was actually "Faribo" that I made the connection and realized I have one of those blankets.  It was here in our cabin when we moved in 17 years ago so I don't know for sure how old it is, but it really is something special.  It's lightweight and soft and seems impervious to both dirt and moths.  It's been laundered several times and still looks like new.

And it was made right here in the U.S.  Who knew even 30 years ago we would be this nostalgic for "Made in America"?  Just so sad. 

 But back to feel-good.  This video came from the Washington Post via Twitter:  A little Brazilian girl has surgery on her cleft lip and sees her new self for the first time. (Be prepared...)

Those Magic Moments:  Circling the earth with the space station:

Cartoon of the Week

Friday, September 16, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: Tea Party Games, Rabid dogs, Sweet Old Fools, and Stories that Soothe.

 I swear, the weirdest thing going last week was the Tea Party debate hosted by Ted Turner's brainchild gone wild.  (When I heard that the once-venerable CNN was going to give free air-time and thus a large dose of credibility to yet another crazy bunch hell-bent on taking back every single right and privilege afforded us by hundreds of years worth of struggle by our more forward-thinking ancestors, this is what I said out loud:  "Waaaaaahhhhhtt??"  (Most people I know uttered a variation of WTF??? but it was all I could muster.  Trying to save an ungrateful country is exhausting.)

I admit I went into a deep funk over it for a while.  I did.  I sent out dozens of 140-character Tweets that were nothing more than pathetic variations of "Waaaaahhhhhtt??" (or WTF, if you lean that way.)

But then I read Bob Cesca's HuffPo piece on it and I had to laugh a little.  I especially liked this part:
I'm not sure if CNN knows it, but nearly everyone across the political spectrum thought the CNN presentation of the debate was ridiculously self-satirical -- a laughing stock only rivaled by the Fox News debate several weeks ago. It's almost as if the producers and planners were deliberately attempting to air something that Jon Stewart would definitely mutilate the following night (he did). 
 (Worth the read, too, for what he says after this:  "Whether it's print or broadcast news, the press is the only industry specifically named in the Bill of Rights, preserving for history the founding mandate that the press remain independent and unconstrained as a means of checking government power. Consequently, an unrivaled degree of integrity is required to fulfill that mandate.")
Then, only yesterday, I came across this post by Andy Borowitz, called "Rabid Dog Briefly Mistaken for Tea Party Candidate".  I laughed until the tears came, and it was just the lift I needed until I crashed again, remembering how hysterical I got at the crazy notion of someone like George W. Bush becoming president of anything.

Beware of Granddaughters with access to YouTube:  OMG, Bruce and Esther, I HAVE to do this! 
(Warning:  Do not watch this while eating or drinking.  Cover your keyboard and any other sensitive electronic components within spitting distance.  Okay.  NOW.)

(Note:  If  you read this you'll find they're okay with it.  They were shocked at first, but you just know they're having fun with it now.)

I love this story.  When Hurricane Irene washed out mountain roads in rural Vermont, teachers were shocked when kids from the far side of the mountain got off the bus as if it were just another day.  It happened like this:

When Vermont roads were washed out by Hurricane Irene,33 schoolkids made it to school from the other side of the mountain.  Their families had discovered a half-mile-long forest path that they could walk, from Route 4 across the mountain to their school bus. At first, the woods were still and unsettling. “My hands shaked a little bit,” said Jillian Bradley, a second grader.
But as Sophia Hussack, another second grader said, “Since Vermont got hit by the storm, people think we couldn’t, but we do.” And what townspeople do and have done is a thing to behold: they have taken that quiet trail and in two weeks’ time turned it into the I-95 of wooded paths. More than a 1,000 people a day now walk it to get to their jobs and go food shopping on the other side. So many cars line Helvi Hill, the dirt road leading to the path on this side, that handwritten no parking signs have been posted to make sure the road stays passable.

I love to get a glimpse of the places where writers write.  I never get tired of picturing them sitting in their spaces doing what they do.  Plush or sparse?  Window or no window?  Hard or soft chair?  Tablet, typewriter or new-fangled electronics?  Chatchkes or no?  Over in Buckinghamshire, they're trying to preserve Roald Dahl's hut. It's a good, good thing.

Those Magic Moments:  Mysterious paper sculptures are appearing in libraries in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The gorgeous works of paper art were produced by cutting up old books (which, okay, gives me the shivers) and were then placed on library desks without anyone being the wiser.  Notes of thanks accompany them, giving the libraries credit for creating an environment where books are treasures and reading is a gift.  What a loving thought.

 (Thanks to my daughter, Sue, for sending this to me.  I surely would have missed it.)

Cartoon of the week:

Mike Luckovich - Atlanta Journal Constitution

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years After

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Ten years have passed -- an entire decade -- but for those closest to the terror, for those whose loved ones were caught in that unimaginable rage storm, for those who trained for this, who mobilized and fought so hard to try and save the lives already lost to them, we pay tribute by refusing to forget.

The pictures are all that is left.  They stay with us and resonate as terrible, beautiful works of art.

The agony of the men and women who could do nothing but stand by and watch the towers fall reflected and drove home our own agony -- even those of us in the hinterlands who watched the horrific events unfold on our TV screens, helpless to do anything but gasp and moan and rock with a kind of psychic pain most of us had never felt in our entire lifetimes.


As painful as the dredging up of the images of that terrible day is to us, there is no sense of dread as the annual anniversaries approach.  Every year, on September 11, we want to remember.  9/11 has become a watchword.  Nobody in America has to be told what those numbers represent.  

 As I write this, they're reciting the names of the men and women lost to us on September 11, 2001 in a ceremony to honor the dead.  The names are being read alphabetically.  For one brief moment the people live again.  We do this for their families and for us.  They're not just numbers or actors in an unimaginable event that became the catalyst for an entire decade that changed all of our lives forever.  We need to keep their memories alive in order to recognize their humanity, and possibly our own.

We remember.  We remember.  We'll always remember.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Toxic Politics will be the Death of Us Yet

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let's build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it's evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax." Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.

The above is from a piece called, "Goodbye to all that: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult".  It was written for Truth-Out by Mike Lofgren,  a former professional staffer who worked on Capitol Hill for more than 28 years, a good portion of which were spent aggressively pushing the Republican line.  No more.  He's had enough.  But it's not as if he's seen the light and gone over to the Dem side.  He's giving them hell, too, the lousy self-serving cowards.

I think what's giving this essay legs -- it's all over the place; Google Mike Lofgren and you'll see -- is the recognition that we're slowly destroying our ancestor's dreams and our grand-children's futures by allowing our elected politicians to lead us down a path we know will come to no good end.

There are hundreds of partisan essays out there blasting both parties up one side and down the other, often with chilling accuracy, but what makes Lofgren's piece compelling is that the insider/author's indictment doesn't spare anyone.  Yes, he thinks the Republicans are worse than the Democrats (which, I admit, opened the door for him here), but his goal, as I read it, is to get us to open our eyes to the dangers we're facing right now, right this minute, that are, incredibly, being fueled by the very people who took an oath to uphold our constitution and work toward the common good.

I spent a good part of this Labor Day weekend looking for programs honoring our unions and our work force.  Precious little could be found, even though that's what Labor Day is all about.  Instead, Sarah Palin's rally was thoroughly covered, as was the Republican candidates' debate in South Carolina.  There was plenty of talk about President Obama's failing numbers and his capitulation to John Boehner over when he could come to Congress to give a speech on jobs.  (It'll be on Thursday, September 8, if you're interested.)

Obama himself gave the traditional Labor Day speech in Detroit, promising to defend the unions and hinting that his upcoming speech will be substantively about jobs.  I'm glad he was in Detroit on Labor Day, and I'm glad he's talking about jobs, but we all know it's going to take more than that.  He's also still talking about trying to work with the Republicans on a bipartisan plan to save the country.  If he can't get past trying to be friends with an enemy who keeps hitting him over the head with evidence of their intent, it's a safe bet things can only go downhill from here.

What Mike Lofgren is trying to tell us is right there in front of our noses:  The Republicans are not our friends.  The Democrats are afraid of them and are trying to save their own skins.  The country is being held hostage by Fat Cats, religious zealots, a media culture bored with real journalism and thirsty for entertainment, and by people who think holding Tea Parties while starving the government is the only way to go.

The politicians the electorate have put in office are either usurping or avoiding their constitutionally endowed obligations.  We're dyin' here and the only jobs crisis they see is their own re-election.

And here's the crazy part:  We're paying them for this.

Friday, September 2, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: Labor Day Edition

This is the start of the Labor Day weekend.  We've been celebrating Labor Day since 1882,  an amazing feat considering all those bastards throughout these long years who would like to strike from our memories the fact that it was labor unions who started the whole thing.

Lately it has become not much more than the last weekend of the summer to go out and get recreational, and on the face of it, that's a good thing.  All work and no play and all that.  But can we just take a moment this weekend to celebrate the movement that is Labor in our country? 

First Labor Day Parade - New York City, 1882

The history of Labor Day  (A 3 1/2 minute video.  Won't take long.)

Striker's children picketing - Flint Sit Down Strike

Marisa Tomei reads the words of a female factory worker involved in the GM sit-down strike, 1936-37, Flint Michigan.

Mother Jones, 1913 Copper Mine Strike, Calumet, Michigan

The only known film clip of Mother Jones - interviewed on her 100th birthday in 1930. 

From left:  Mary Heaton Vorse, Upton Sinclair, Eleanor Roosevelt, Walter Reuther. Photo:  Walter P. Reuther Library

In 1940, Walter Reuther wrote a letter to FDR proposing to turn half-empty auto plants into airplane factories.  His claim, that they could turn out 500 planes a day, might have been a bit of an overreach, but the plan made perfect sense.  Europe was already struggling with Hitler's onslaught, and it was clear it would take years to prepare for it.  But guess who were vehemently against losing even an ounce of profit to help out?  The heads of the companies whose plants Reuther was proposing to use.  The labor leader's plan never got off the ground (not until after That Day that will live in Infamy, when the nation turned to its factories to build up a massive war machine in a hurry), but the letter brought Reuther to Roosevelt's attention and they became friends and allies.  He and his wife were invited to the White House on several occasions.   Roosevelt, it's been reported, actually listened to what Reuther had to say.

So yes, it can be done.  It has been done.  The American Labor Movement has been long recognized as a force for good, except by those who see no profit in admitting it.  
 And for your reading pleasure, labor quotes from the American Labor Studies Center.  (A subversive organization if ever I saw one.)  Their admitted goal is to provide labor history materials to Kindergarten through 12th Grade teachers in order to "provide students with an opportunity to explore the many facets of a very complex and important part of our nation’s history and contemporary life. Teachers are encouraged to use a variety of research and inquiry approaches as they select their pedagogical strategies."  

Oh, my...

Cartoon of the Week:

Mark Hurwitt is an Illustrator, Cartoonist, Designer, Writer and Teacher residing in Brooklyn New York
His website is

Have a grand and glorious weekend, everybody.  Have fun, stay safe, but come Tuesday let's get back to it -- it's jobs, jobs, jobs.