Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day ~ 2014

© 2014,Steven G. Artley, ARTLEY CARTOONS 
Today is Memorial Day. 

Like so many things in American history, it is an amalgam of twisty-turny passages that manage to come out as a single observance. The short version is this: the day was originally called Decoration Day and it was created in 1862 to decorate the graves of the glorious Confederate dead.  Not to be outdone by their southern sisters, the ladies of Boalsburg, PA decorated the graves of the Union dead on July 4th, 1864 at the dedication of a war cemetery. The first recorded event called a memorial day happened in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1st, 1865. According to that source of all things confirmable, Wikipedia:
During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, "Martyrs of the Race Course." Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen's schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the "First Decoration Day" in the North.
Memorial day as a name started coming into vogue around 1882 but the day of observance did not officially become Memorial Day until 1967 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act....and we all know what that means. Oddly, my office gets a day off on the Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving as Federal holidays, but not President's Day in February. I don't understand that one. But we have regular hours on President's Day even though it's one of the Uniform Monday Holiday is Martin Luther King Day in January, but hey! I'm just a trench monkey and no one is paying me to understand this stuff. 

What I do understand is that Siegfrieds have fought in every US war since the Revolution. Three of the four grandparents in this family served in uniform during World War II...the fourth worked as a civilian at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  But they all came home. As a kid, I remember Grandma Bessie telling me how lucky we were that my dad came home, as did her sons, my Uncle Dave and Uncle Herbie (with shrapnel in his leg), as had my Uncle Lenny on dad's side. And the 5 Siegfried boys, along with Grandma Marilyn and step-grandma Helen (Siegfried)  also served...and by the grace of G-d, came home. 

The country was at war and they all went to do their part. No one wanted to go. No one said, "Yeah, let's go invade some country just for the hell of it." But they went anyway. They knew that the minute they put on that uniform they were laying their lives on the line. There were no guarantees they would return, no thoughts about benefits, home loans, or tuition coverage...they just went. It was what was expected and what they did.  

And every one of them lost buddies along the way. Sometimes they saw it happen, other times they just heard about it. No one thought of it as a life wasted; this was a life sacrificed in the line of duty to protect others.

It wasn't quite the same after Vietnam, a war so unpopular that soldiers were reviled by the public even though they were putting on that same uniform and being sent into harm's way by the same government. We learned a lot from that war....including how not to treat the ones who returned, and after far too long, how to honor the ones that died fighting for something that would be lost anyway.

The drums beat once more after September 11th,  but the wars that followed came to symbolize not America's status in the world, but rather a questionable attack for reasons that make no sense even now. Iraq was based on a lie. This was Pizarro in Peru all over again. We came, we destroyed, we left a country in tatters, and there is not a reason in the world that can justify what happened in Iraq. The day will come when someone will demand reparations....and in that suit should be the families of those soldiers who marched into the abyss on orders of a President who cared not one whit about what happened to them. 

Afghanistan was at least involved in September 11th, and gave succor to Osama bin Laden and his tribe of terrorists. But that country's long history of invaders being defeated should've been a giant clue not to park there....but to get bin Laden and get out. Again, our guys marched into the fray believing they were doing what was right... but only because they were sold a bill of bogus goods by a President who not only didn't care, but did not think enough of them to actually fund this war. 

But those soldiers went and fought and died. We cannot turn away from the sacrifices they and their families made believing this was for the good of this country. They died wearing the uniform of the United States of America and if we cannot pause in our consumer-driven-over-eating lives to give them at the very least the moment of silent remembrance they have earned, then we do not deserve to fly the same flag they flew over their bases over our sheltered lives. 

 The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

Thursday is the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks
This is not's the end of both Byzantium and the Middle Ages.
561 years later Constantinople still has not fully recovered. 
An appropriate observance includes angel food cake with chocolate icing. 
Candles are optional.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hair On Fire

Well, it was a terrific weekend. The sun shined. The Milwaukee contingent arrived for an all too brief weekend visit. My shabbos dinner table was full, shul was a veritable senior son fest as so many people stopped him at the kiddush table it took them forever to get lunch. And brunch on Sunday was a great way to spend a few minutes lingering over bagels and lox before they headed back to Cheeseland. We don't get enough weekends like that. There are usually gigs involved and if there are gigs involved the whole band is here. I love when they arrive en masse and I love going to the gigs. But every once in a while it's particularly nice to have just the family around the table.  

So I was feeling all mushy and ready to write a charming little blog about the vagaries of spring and families....and then I caught this little article from Saturday's NY Times on line edition: Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm. It was all I could do not to set my hair on fire. If I'd have had a real paper in my hands, I would have flung it across the room.

Seems that there's a movement afoot to put 'warning labels' on literature. 
Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.
Are these people joking?  Apparently not:
Bailey Loverin, a sophomore at Santa Barbara, said the idea for campus wide trigger warnings came to her in February after a professor showed a graphic film depicting rape. She said that she herself had been a victim of sexual abuse, and that although she had not felt threatened by the film, she had approached the professor to suggest that students should have been warned.
I understand the rating system for movies and even the labeling of music for explicit content. Hell, there was a little incident with a certain GREEN DAY cd, the junior son, and Best Buy because of the explicit nature of the lyrics. But where does one draw the line...and does it have to be drawn?

Part of being a parent is knowing when to let go, when to stop putting yourself, your tastes, and your sensibilities between your kids and the outside world.  You cannot shield up-and-coming adults from the world and expect them to be able to handle grown-up life. No matter how nice the intention, that "trigger warning system" is going to be used as an excuse to not read. It's a validation that someone gets to skip out because the material might challenge their world view. If THE GREAT GATSBY is too traumatic for a college student to read, perhaps the campus thought police should also put trigger labels the Bible as well as daily newspapers?

This is anathema. How can childish brains become adult minds unless they are confronted with the difficult, the challenging, and, if you want to know the truth, the unpleasant. Kids don't grow kept inside a bell jar. 

The whole point of college is to be exposed to that which isn't necessarily found in your own cupboards. You sign up for classes in stuff you don't know about so you can broaden your perspective. You read stuff you might not like. (Do not mention MOBY DICK to me. Ever.) If you feel you need to gird up your loins before tackling a book, do yer own homework: read the reviews on Amazon. No book goes unscathed there. 

I know there are readers who will feel I am insensitive to the needs of traumatized people. Baloney. I am advocating personal responsibility for college students. If a student is so fragile as to be traumatized by class material, why take the class in the first place? You cannot have two levels of for those able to read the books and one for those unable to face what's on the page. 

The whole concept is fraught with pitfalls. Does one tailor one's syllabus to the least likely to offend? Can one include UNCLE TOM'S CABIN without running the risk that someone might be offended by a book about slavery? Do you label books with dialogue written in local dialect because someone might be offended by a word once used and now no longer deemed appropriate....think Jim in ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN or Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND? Do you remove MILA 18 or THINGS FALL APART because of their depiction of war and genocide? What about TENDER IS THE NIGHT for its portrayal of depression and mental illness? How about THE JUNGLE or LORD OF THE FLIES? Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales? ALICE IN WONDERLAND? I can keep going if you want.

I vociferously disagree with Meredith Raimondo of Oberlin College who was quoted in the article:
"I quite object to the argument of ‘Kids today need to toughen up,’...That absolutely misses the reality that we’re dealing with. We have students coming to us with serious issues, and we need to deal with that respectfully and seriously.”
Respectfully and seriously does not mean putting a label on every single book in the library. Dealing with this respectfully means the student understands his/her own triggers and deals with it. Otherwise you are asking everyone else to set aside their own to learning just to match an "adjusted" version. 

Once you are in college, you are expected to do the classwork. If you cannot handle the material, pick a different class. Maybe offer "trauma free" classes for people that don't want face harsh literature. Perhaps that will lead to a degree in Trauma Free Lit for people who don't really want to know.

As a mother and a writer, I am so totally offended by this trigger concept. We have coddled our kids long enough; it has to stop someplace...and it had better be by the time they get to college. Life is not all pretty, kind, or nice. It is short, often brutal, and downright mean. Literature exposes the reader to the way things were, are, or may become. Do you really want leaders who have not read books like GRAPES OF WRATH? Or 1984?

I don't.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Got a small child handy? Read to him/her.
They'll remember that forever. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's not just about Obamacare, folks.

Note to self: this is the 200th episode of The Wifely Person Speaks. Somehow it feels longer than that. 

Sunday, when he stopped by the house, the junior son filled my bicycle tires. Now, one might think I could fill my own bicycle tires, but noooooo. Not in the Ziggy household where we are are proud owners of a full sized air compressor. I have no idea why we even have a full size air compressor, and I'm not even sure I want to know. It’s right next to the freezer in the garage and unlike some people who unplug the freezer in order to plug in the giant air compressor and then forget to plug the freezer back in, I remembered to flip back the plugs.

There is nothing like peddling through the neighborhood at a leisurely pace while your bum is trying to get used to the bike saddle again. All those lovely calluses you built up last year are barely there. Your knees are screaming, "MURDERER!" with each push of the pedal...not that their whining is going to stop you from at least once around the pond. What almost did stop me, however, was a Prius. Damn thing is silent. Never heard it sneak up behind me. I think I'll invest in a rear-view mirror. 

Speaking of how fragile life can be...did you happen to hear that part of the West Antarctic ice sheet has collapsed? Scientists have known it was coming for a while, based on site measurements and real data collection...not computer generated modeling speculation. This is not one of these, "Oh, we can fix this later" kinda things. This is a serious game changer. 

In response, a number of our fine Congressclowns have launched yet another series of attacks on science. Now, I'm not talking about rocket science here; I'm talking about basic environmental science. If you passed the third grade, most of this stuff should be decipherable for you. You can grasp simple concepts like melting ice caps and increased sea level. No one is asking you to diagram the difference between nuclear fission and fusion. 

Marco Rubio, poster boy for the GOP these days, explained his position rather eloquently in an interview with ABC News broadcast on Sunday:

“Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that's directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activities…I don't know of any era in world history where the climate has been stable. Climate is always evolving, and natural disasters have always existed… I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. That's what I—and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”
Really? You really think that, Senator-from-pretty-much-sea-level-Florida Rubio? You were absent the day they taught ozone layer and ice caps in science class? Oh! Wait! You probably didn't go to one of those liberal, progressive schools where they taught actual science as opposed to just mythology! 

Yeah, sure, it's going to take several centuries for the full impact of the loss of the ice sheet to be felt. But if ocean levels are already rising at a perilous rate, a few centuries aren't all that long. Put a guy like Rubio in the White House and you can bet your bottom dollar...but certainly not his.... the Delray Beach contingent will be moving in with me in pretty short order because I'm all the way up north and in-land. 

Out of the current crop of GOP contenders, only Chris Christie admits climate change is real. The rest, and this includes Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee are pretty much all deniers. 

Now, one would think We, the People would want the best and the smartest guys running this country. Sticking one's head in the sand or denouncing science in favor of profit are not desirable qualifications. 

West Antarctica, . 
Photograph: EJ Steig/Nasa
If you extrapolate, there's a bit of an issue if your elected representatives don't get the science part. How can they write bills to allocate funding for stuff we health research, agricultural development, land management, animal health, environmental protection....all that other stuff if they can't converse intelligently on science? These right-wing-pseudo-religious-wacko candidates go on and on about God's gifts to mankind and how we are all the recipients of divine bounty ad nauseum, yet they shit all over the biggest gift of all: Earth. They refuse to own up to their responsibility as leaders (and I use the term loosely) to speak up on behalf of the planet. Every single one of these assholes is letting greed and profiteering overtake protection of our world. 

If the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet is a warning shot, there are things that can and should be done now to impede further collapse. We can begin by insisting our elected representatives have at least a working knowledge of global warming. Have differing theories, sure, but come to a unified decision that this is real science, not some kind of commie plot. 

Rachel Carson's SILENT SPRING was prescient when it was published in 1962, and her understanding of the impact of our existence in this world is as true now as it was then. 
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” 
Our roads are diverging not at that yellow wood, but at a white sheet glacier. Where we go from here will be our decision and a big part of that decision will happen in the voting booth. 

It's not just about Obamacare, folks. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
It's time for the GOP to consider changing their mascot to an ostrich.