Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Spending my holidays with my family..and a cold. Picked up a few unwanted presents on Saturday, namely a sore throat and runny nose, so I'm medicating that. Plus, I'm rebounding from a stomach flu from last week. Anyway, I'm drinking tea and eating nominally and taking it easy. I did manage to play with my cousin's kid last night. Kids have an infinite amount of energy and can function hyperactively for hours. The kid was literally into everything and scampering around the house, tormenting the cat, and switching off the Christmas tree lights. Anyway, it's good to be with family during the holidays.
I recently watched a few holiday classics: Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and It's A Wonderful Life. I think Hollywood will never make a great Christmas movie again. Those three are completely perfect in expressing humanity and putting life in perspective. Each one uses Christmas as a way to say something greater about us, about the need to reach out and touch the lives of others and to embrace families and those around us. Kris Kringle, Ralphie and George Bailey are three different characters speaking with individual voices, but through each of them you get a few distinct messages: imagination, preservation of youth and memories past and doing the right thing for your fellow humans. Today's crass commercialism and the bullshit tug-of-war over "Keeping Christ in Christmas" these intrinsic things espoused by these movies gets lost. We're left a lot colder and hollow this time of year instead of filled with a sense of compassion and compelled towards goodwill. We're left thinking about material needs and social battles instead of uniting in charity and love and sharing the warmth of a fire or a hearty meal with those closest or not so close to us. We're shouted at about secularization, the ludicrousness of "holiday trees" and "happy holidays" from Christians who do anything but turn the other cheek. We're left with comparisons of the Grinch and Scrooge instead of Jesus, who wanted people to love their enemies and be more charitable and just. Does it matter that Christmas originated as a pagan festival of Yule, celebrating the winter solstice, the darkest time of year, when people gathered together to stay warm? Maybe the true warmth of this time of year is coming together and sharing the love of family and friends and celebrating making it through another year. Life's too short to argue about petty political talking points. It's about what Kris Kringle, Ralphie and George Bailey went through in their travails - learning that people matter. They really do, and the older you get you realize how the family you couldn't stand when you were a teenager, the idiot neighbor or the stranger you bump into on the subway actually are a part of you and have value and worth. Knowing this, and realizing we're all sharing a one-way ride on this spinning planet should fill you with humility, compassion and a newfound respect for life.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hope in Humanity

A Brooklyn man, Walter Adler and his friend, responded to someone wishing them "Merry Christmas" aboard the Q train with "Happy Hanukkah". To his surprise, Adler was surrounded by people who didn't appreciate his mentioning Hanukkah. Maybe he was annoyed by hearing Christmas, or "the new C-word". Maybe he just wanted to mention Hanukkah and give it recognition and notoriety, after all, it is an important Jewish holiday celebrated around Christmastime.
Adler found himself cornered. One man showed Adler a tattoo of Jesus and said, "Happy Hanukkah. That's when the Jews killed Jesus."
Adler was surrrounded by 14 people who berated them with such gems as "Jew bitches" and "dirty Jews".
The fact that this shit is happening in modern New York is disturbing.
Here's what's hopeful about this story.
A Muslim man, Hassan Askari, jumped into the fray and tussled with Adler's attackers. Given the animosity between the two religions, this was a really good story. Askari, asked about the incident, replied, "I did what I had to do. My parents raised me that way."
One of the good things about this is their ages. Adler is 23 and Askari is 20. I like when young people throw off the prejudices of their fathers and embrace each other as equals. It's the way it should be. It doesn't matter what religion you are, how much money you have, the color of your skin or where you're from. What matters is the goodness you carry with you and whether you do the right thing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alien Invasion

They invaded my town, arriving without warning in the dead of night. I see them everywhere. They’re short, odd-looking and speak in a strange tongue. They’re assimilating, but you know they’re from Somewhere Else.
They’re aliens.
Illegal aliens.
They’re from Mexico and South America and they’re all over America. They’re hopping fences, crossing deserts and taking Greyhound Buses to get to your humble God-fearing town.
Okay, so it’s not a science fiction or horror movie, but if you listen to the pundits like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, you’ll think it was.
They’re breaking the law coming here, but what are we doing about it really?
Undocumented Mexicans are here in great numbers, but if this were really an issue of national security, you’d have them rounded up in the dead of night and shipped back to Mexico.
That’s not happening.
There’s been a lot of fear-mongering and paranoia over illegal immigration, as if these Mexicans are bogey men who’re stealing our jobs. What a joke that is! Like the line to apply as a lettuce picker or landscaping assistant is long. What about the much-coveted jobs of pumping gas or dish washer?
Sure, we have to pay for the health care, education and incarceration of illegal immigrants. But if they were citizens, we’d still have to pay for them. So let’s get down to what this argument really is about –foreign brown people are here, and that scares the shit out of many.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 57 percent of illegal immigrants (5.9 million) in the United States are Mexican, with 24 percent (2.5 million) from other Latin American countries. So we’re not talking about an influx of Eastern Europeans here. Since the mid-1990s, the number of new unauthorized immigrants has equaled or exceeded the number of legal immigrants. About 80 to 85 percent of Mexican immigrants are illegal, according to a 2005 report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Two-thirds of illegal immigrants live in eight states: California (24 percent), Texas (14 percent), Florida (9 percent), New York (7 percent), Arizona (5 percent), Illinois (4 percent), New Jersey (4 percent) and North Carolina (3 percent).
The report gives a profile of who the illegal Mexicans are: most are families, young and mostly all are employed. They’re poor, have low education, and low insurance
Illegal immigrants from Mexico crossed the United States’ southwestern borders to get here. Some overstay their visas when they’ve found work and keep working. Men, women and children came because America has opportunities Mexico lacks. They’re not Rhodes scholars or college graduates. They’re dirt poor immigrants who live shit lives. Some of them are criminals who fall into gangs. Yet most are just people who want to work hard and assimilate into their ethnic communities. Their kids learn English in our schools. Most of them don’t want to sell drugs or kill people. They just want a better life raising their families in America.
The American Dream.
Remember that? Remember getting a good education, hard work and prosperity?
Me neither. Those days are gone, replaced by the need to accumulate more status symbols and paying bills just to keep your head above water.
What are the jobs these undocumented, illegal Mexicans are taking from us? Farming, cleaning, construction, food preparation, drywall installers, grounds maintenance, packagers, maids and housekeepers, agricultural workers, dishwashers, cafeteria attendants, janitors, construction laborers, roofers, and painters.
Undocumented workers have an annual average income of $12,000 compared to natives who make an average of $24,000 annually. The average annual income for an undocumented immigrant family is $24,000 compared to $47,700 a native family earns.
The presidential candidates are asked about illegal immigration in every debate. Their responses vary, but most of them want illegals documented or deported. Some want to construct a physical fence along the borders, like this would stop anybody from crossing. Remember those drug smuggling tunnels under the border?
We can’t handle the problem of illegal immigration ourselves. We need to reach out to Mexico and solve this dilemma. We need to get Mexico to improve standards in their country so their own citizens have employment, good services and a better life there instead of here. Isn’t that what America currently specializes in? Telling other countries what to do?
Maybe we need to eliminate sanctuary cities and enable local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.
If the government can dedicate officers, equipment and resources to stop a stoner from smoking a joint, why can't the government deport people who came to this country illegally?
But why would they?
Just think of the benefits of having illegals here, working under the table for low wages. It’s every unscrupulous employer’s dream. Of course some employers like illegal immigrants. It means they can pay them under the table and don’t have to pay taxes on them. Think of it as slavery without repealing the 13th Amendment: brown people doing shit work for meager reward.
Hey, it’s not like the government wants to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants. Heaven forbid!
Another fear is the Mexicans are streaming over the border in an attempt to seize control of the American Southwest and take back Aztlan, the ancestral home of the Aztec people. According to legend, the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are part of a vast territory called Aztlan, and that the Mexican immigrants are populating them on the pretext of an invasion.
Oh, no! They’re taking over the southwest one minimum wage job at a time!
The bottom line is this: if you really want to solve this problem of undocumented workers, solve it. Don’t dither and bitch about how the Mexican illegals are here and streaming across the borders.
Do something about it. Find them, deport them and fine the people who hired them. If you employed a serial rapist and you knew they were a serial rapist, guess what? You’re harboring a serial rapist and you should be held accountable.
We can solve this problem easily and not turn it into a political football. We need a leader who’ll stand up and do the right thing instead of paying lip service to special interests or xenophobes.
I’ve been told if you break the law in this country, you should be punished accordingly, unless you’re a celebrity and have the cash and influence to get out of trouble.
If the undocumented Mexicans who come here looking for work broke the law, then they should be deported and given a chance to legally become citizens.
Isn’t that what America is – a haven for freedom and place where people can better themselves and their families? Or was that whole “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free” just something to fill space at the Statue of Liberty? Should it even apply to Mexicans in the 21st century?

Thursday, December 6, 2007


The first snow of the season fell today, first in soft flurries, then in larger drifts covering Ocean City in a mantle of white wetness. Asbury Avenue resembled a Norman Rockwell Christmas card, holiday decorations hanging from the streetlights and the shops pimped out with Santas and evergreen garlands. Still, the gray day had a distinctive chill and snap to it. As I made my way to the convenience store, I felt the headcold I’ve nursed for the last few days return in a wave of muted sniffles. Nobody was in the store when I entered, besides a rotund guy behind the counter. Tattoos decorated his arms and he had pierced ears and a ring on every finger. He greeted me enthusiastically, “Hey, buddy how ya doin’?” People like that should ween themselves slowly off their meds, I thought as I placed the Styrofoam cup beneath the plastic nozzle of the hot chocolate dispenser. “Hey, pal! What’s up?” the man said, beaming.
“I’m okay,” I replied.
“That’s great!” he said jovially, and took my money.
Over my shoulder, as I exited, I heard him exclaim “All right! Yeah!” as he threw a wad of paper into a trashcan.
I made my way from the store, heavily burdened with ennui. What the hell happened to this country, the United States of America? We used to be a beacon of hope, a paramount civilization others aspired to emulate or join. We were the good guys, a bulwark of freedom, opportunity and fair play.
An insane dance between the left and the right fill the airwaves, blaming each other for the degradation of our culture and values and the destruction of America. Baby boomers, not content with retirement and living their lives in gated over 55 communities are fighting Vietnam over again, the counter culture unfurled their tie-dye T-shirts and are waving them in the establishment’s faces, however, they are the establishment. They make the rules. The ones who never questioned authority have become authority. No wonder we’re a nation of unblinking, unfeeling robots and automatons.
Republicans claim the liberals are turning America into a nightmare circus of gay sex, mindless political correctness and a cultural swamp, while Democrats blast conservatives for creating an atmosphere of fear, hatred and ignorance at the hands of Bible thumpers, warmongers and corporate greed. A lazy, indifferent and corrupt media airs the disputes, pettiness and trivial controversies nonstop.
No wonder why we’re so jaded.
No wonder we’re all fed up.
Viewing people as abstractions or by political affiliations, sexual preferences or national origins is far easier and convenient than accepting them as Americans.
This is what the corporate status quo really wants: divide us up by making us afraid. Instead of cooperating with each other and viewing each other as Americans, the peddlers of shit want to sire a nation of frightened, pissed off consumers and ideologists dedicated to the extreme right or extreme left.
Logic, reason and questioning will soon be forgotten. Debates won’t be decided by the most articulate or intelligent positions; they’ll be won by who yells the loudest.
Hot-button issues, fear and faith instead of what's best for everyone.
Civility and national duty are replaced by discord and selfishness.
Time was, America had it all. We had the best ideas, inventions, technologies and universities. We were an economic strongman and extremely prosperous. We gave our resources to those who were less fortunate and helped our allies even if they didn’t ask for our assistance.
Perhaps we never were these things and all of those educational films from the 1940s and 1950s were raw bullshit and brainwashing propaganda. Maybe a generation of kids who grew up listening to “duck and cover” mental hygiene films and read Boys Life magazine were lulled into manipulation by the status quo that abhors change and social progress.
Thing is, we’ve got to survive. The nation has to change for the better. We’re never going to do that if we’re clawing at each other’s throats.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Emperor Eric the Overdecorated of New Scagglethorpe
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title