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February 27, 2014

Pay Attention! The Grapes of Wrath are Filling Up

“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” ~ John Steinbeck

 

This quote comes from that great novel of the Depression and the Dustbowl, The Grapes of Wrath by the Nobel laureate John Steinbeck. Today would have been Steinbeck’s 112th birthday, so in honor of him and his view of America, I wanted to post something.  His novel, one of 27 books he wrote, is an American classic and one of my favorites in the American canon.  Its theme of social justice called to me when I first read it as a high school senior;  later readings only made me love it more.

 

Steinbeck wrote of the radically unequal America of the Depression, and as he said when he was writing it,  “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.”  After it was done, he said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”  He certainly did for this reader, and for millions of others since its publication.

 

But Steinbeck wrote this novel in 1939. That was 75 years ago.  I wonder what he would think of this America, now in 2014.  Based on his writing, I suspect he’d be shattered.

 

His words still fit today. I see the grapes of wrath building, building, building.  Something has to give.  Something must give.  There must be social change.  Greed has taken over, and the “greedy bastards” are kings in our society.

 

What has happened to my America? Have we learned nothing from history?

 

If you haven’t read the novel, please do. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

February 17, 2014

It’s Not Just a Sale Day–Presidents’ Day 2014

My inbox is full of sale offers–it’s Presidents’ Day–shop! Shop! SHOP!

 

I get sick of it.  Why is everything in this country an excuse to go shopping?  No, I know why. That was a rhetorical question.  This is supposed to be a day to remember Presidents Washington and Lincoln and frankly, any others you’re particularly partial to, I guess.

 

One of my favorite presidents is Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president, Republican and founder of the Progressive Party.  I’m thinking had I lived under his presidency my view of him may not be so rosy, but so many of his words have resonance for me.

 

Like these: “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

 

Those points about prosperity, safety, soft living and get rich quick are ringing bells.

 

When did duty, discipline and hard work become negative words?  When did laziness become a virtue? Every semester I hear students tell me they are “lazy” as if it’s something to be proud of. No shame, no embarrassment.  I don’t want people to hang their heads in shame, but a little perspective, please?

 

Poor Teddy is often depicted as a macho man, “cowboy,” and hawk. And he was. But he’s consistently ranked as one of America’s greatest presidents–he busted up monopolies, made laws to protect people from corporations, fought to keep food and drugs pure.  No one is perfect, and I’m not one who believes that leaders need to be perfect.  But what I love about Teddy is his no-nonsense approach to life.  He told it like it saw it. He was blunt. I love that.

 

Instead of shopping today (or realistically, maybe after shopping), spare a thought for those who tried to build this country up, save it, improve it.  Pick up a presidential biography, scan some history pages on the web.

February 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Abe. Bring on the Revolution

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It used to be a national holiday until we replaced it and Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd with the more generic and easier to plan around Monday holiday, Presidents Day.  Out of all the presidents, we honored Lincoln because he “saved the Union” and also signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a good legal first step to ending slavery in the US.

 

I have to admit that there are times when I wonder whether the Union should have been saved. Don’t misunderstand me–I love the South. It’s beautiful, full of wonderful people–my grandfather was a Virginian–and provides the United States with much natural bounty.  Much of the country’s wealth comes from the resources of the South.  My concern does not come from a dislike of a place or a group.  My concern is that the United States is just too large to govern effectively.

 

We are theoretically a collection of sovereign states and four commonwealths, each theoretically with a large measure of autonomy.  But over the years, the federal government in DC has been taking over more and more of this sovereignty, often using money to wield its will. Federal aid is cut to states that don’t toe the federal line. Money makes an excellent leash.  And when a small group of people–1oo senators, 435 representatives, a president, vice-president and a Cabinet of 15 heads of executive departments–rule over 314 million people, give or take, things are not going to go smoothly.

 

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”

 

I think many people are currently weary of our government. We are weary of a government run by corporations and special interest groups.  We are weary of our protests being ignored. We are weary of illegal acts being carried out in our name without our permission. We are weary of an elite in Washington that thinks it is the elite because it’s special and above us, not because we elected them to stand for us.  We are so weary of our government that many have given up–they believe there can never be change, so apathy has sunk in.  Frankly, that’s just where the power elite wants most of us to be.

 

No group is easier to be led than a group that no longer cares.  Too many of the hundreds of millions can be bothered to pay attention.

 

Perhaps if the Union had not survived, there would be a less powerful national government.  But now is the time to speak up.  There was the “Bloodless Revolution” of 1688. Rooted as it was in religious intolerance and bigotry, it’s not a perfect model, and it doesn’t actually correlate well, but my point is revolution can happen and change can come without bloodshed.  And as Lincoln reminds us, it’s our constitutional right to overthrow an ineffective government.

 

We the people have the power.  We just don’t realize it.  What was that Reagan-era slogan? “Just say no!”  Say no to a government that forgets that it’s, as Lincoln reminded us in the aftermath of a bloody Civil War battle, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

February 5, 2014

You Mean That’s It?

Since Monday morning, I’ve been hearing about “that Coca-Cola commercial”.  People were offended. People were offended that people were offended. People thought “America the Beautiful” was the national anthem. That one flummoxed me. People getting offended seems to be the American way now. But getting the national anthem wrong? That takes a special kind of talent (especially if you’re complaining about Coke misusing it!)

 

I tell ya, Coke got its money’s worth.  They wanted to draw attention to their brand? Mission accomplished.

 

I have seen so much back and forth that I finally watched it today. It’s a minute of pretty pictures of ethnically diverse pretty people in pretty places in the United States. The hymn, yes, hymn “America the Beautiful” is sung, often by children, in eight different languages. For a few seconds, there’s a gay couple with what is most likely their daughter, though it could be a niece.  Shots of Coca-Cola are laced throughout.  That’s it.

 

It’s a commercial. It’s selling something. It’s selling something that’s not particularly good for humans to consume: high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, caramel color and a lot of empty calories.  But this is America, so selling stuff is okay. That’s not “offensive”.  Selling an idea that America might be a mix of peoples, that people might sing in their mother tongue, even a song about America? That’s “offensive”.

 

Of course, the “factoids” have been hitting social media, as well.  The hymn was written by the now famous (thank you, Coca-Cola) English professor Katharine Lee Bates, who lived in a “romantic friendship” with Katharine Coman for 25 years. I hesitate to use the word lesbian because Bates didn’t. But it was definitely romantic as Bates’s published poems illustrate. You can find snippets here.

 

Then there are the words to the song itself.  That the song is a prayer for America to be refined into a perfect place is being mentioned.  My favorite verse is this:

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

Those are my italics. I don’t think God cares what language (or style) we pray in. Mercy is important; success is nobleness and we’re hoping that we’re growing more and more godly. Hate and intolerance are not godly values. Nor are they noble.

 

I have to admit, this has always been my favorite of the national songs I learned as a child.  I like the values it espouses of self-improvement, national improvement, and striving for brotherhood: “And crown thy good with brotherhood”.  Love that line.  Some people are realizing how “Liberal” the song actually is.  Instead, I like to think of it as Transcendental, even Puritan in its lyrics.  Of course the adjective Puritan is double-edged. Yes, they pursued liberty, justice, literacy, equality, but from a very narrow, very specific Christian outlook. The irony of my word choice does not escape me.

 

But what’s really bothering me the most about this brouhaha is that this is yet another weapon of mass distraction. There are very bad things happening in America every day (I won’t give a list–every one has his or her own priorities). If someone thinks a Coke ad in multiple languages is the worst problem we have here in America, he or she clearly isn’t paying attention.

 

I do realize that some people feel that the commercial is a symbol of bigger things gone wrong: of the “gay agenda,” of a “Muslim agenda”. I don’t think asking for acceptance is an agenda, but then that’s me.  Isn’t America about freedom and having the right to live as one likes, as long as it’s not hurting someone else?   How is a married gay couple hurting anyone? There are some people who, for religious reasons, see homosexuality as a sin. That’s fine with me. Don’t practice homosexual acts.  Your religious freedom to believe that can not be forced upon other people, though.  Homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” or a “choice”. It’s like being left handed. Once upon a time, being left handed was considered a sign of evil, so people were forced to use their right hand. Made a lot of people a little nuts.  We don’t do things like that any more. And a “gay agenda” to “turn people gay”? That’s not a thing. Really, it’s not.  There seems to be a “straight agenda” to “turn people straight,” but the gays know how well that works. Why should they turn around and do the same?

 

As for religions, why shouldn’t we accept Muslims? Roman Catholics and Jews were once systematically marginalized and made second class citizens. Some think they still should be.  People actually thought the Catholics would rise up and kill all the Protestants some day.  (My godmother’s mother-in-law was sure of this back in 1939–when my Catholic godmother married into the family.)  Obviously, that hasn’t happened.  And won’t.  Some believe the Jews control a) the government, b) the media, c) Hollywood and/or d) banking.  Um, I don’t think so. Yet I’m sure someone will post and show me how they do.

 

The irony that I am writing about a commercial when I said there are better things to write about doesn’t escape me.  But one of the main goals of commercials is to generate buzz. As I said, mission accomplished.

 

February 2, 2014

Culturally Acceptable Self-Harm

Filed under: American culture,New Broads — by maggiec @ 2:56 pm
Tags: , ,
In today’s news we heard of another talented person lost to drug usage. The list of the talented who have died from an overdose is long and diverse, and we shake our heads and say, “so sad.”  On so many levels, drug use is condoned in this country. It’s considered a personal choice, a way to relax, to be cool, to be countercultural, whatever. We expect our artists to use some sort of drug.  It seems to be considered their “right” as an artistic person.
I see young people watching the “cool” people do drugs, and they think, “why not”?  And it really is quite easy to become addicted.  Of course, for a lot of people, I do understand that drug use (or alcohol or food or sex or material goods) is a way to escape the pain of every day life. The stories I hear break my heart, but covering the pain is just a bandage. Replacing one pain with another, potentially fatal, pain is a poor choice (to make a gross understatement).
I’ve seen addiction up close. I’ve lost family and friends to addiction; I fight my own demons, so I do understand.  But I think what angers me the most is our culture’s casual acceptance of recreational drug use.  It has destroyed not just lives but communities, and we cluck platitudes, blame the addicts and move on to the next piece of news.
Actually this has been bothering me since Wednesday when I was teaching students about the Harlem Renaissance and the glories of Harlem.  The stark contrast between then and now is chilling.
I know full well that drugs take the pain away. I know that being high can feel good. I know that not doing drugs can make one a social pariah.  Remember when the people who did drugs were the pariahs and the “straight” people were the norm? If you’re under 45, you probably don’t, and there’s something wrong with that.  I do believe that as a nation, we have to stop making self-harm socially acceptable.
On the other hand, I do understand that no one decides to be an addict. And often people who are addicted to things deny there’s a problem.  But if you suspect you have a problem, please reach out. People are here to help you.
Here are some contacts:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admin (SAMSA) www.samhsa.gov/treatment/natHelpFAQs.aspx 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
TTY: 1-800-487-4889
The 24 Hour Addiction Helpline http://www.24houraddictionhelp.org/ or 1-800-447-9081
Recovery.org http://www.recovery.org/topics/addiction-recovery-helplines/ 1-888-249-7292
Free Addiction Helpline http://www.freeaddictionhelpline.com/  1-866-925-7411
 Note: This is a cross-post between my two blogs as it falls under both American culture (this blog) and self improvement (www.ladymaggie.wordpress.com)  If you subscribe to both, you will see it twice.

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