2014 and Change Happens

Well it’s 2014.  I know I drank deeply of alcohol infused liquids and shoved 2013 out the door this past week.  It was an extremely difficult year, but we all survived and by that I mean at least one of us would have been dead this past Christmas but for a rather random catching of a life threatening condition.  Getting what turned out to be very serious surgery and treatment, then starting recovery took up most of the year from late July to the present, and monitoring must continue for life.  But suffice to say I still have Husband, and am very grateful I do.

There were other horrible, shocking, and unbelievably trying events that occurred. This past year was one of the most depressing I have ever experienced, and it is no exaggeration to say toward the end I was not sure I had anything left in me to cope.  Maybe I’m still not sure, but I accept the false rituals of a new year to give me something to celebrate.

I got a new paper calendar (yes it may seem luddite-like, but it is tangible and won’t evaporate if batteries die) and filled in all the set dates of the new year.  I also started a to- do list, and already feel overwhelmed.  There are times having a family is a positive distraction, it makes me focus on the present (even if annoyingly so) and get on with things.  Money is tight, time is valuable, and the circle of people I know genuinely love me, love us, is considerably smaller.  I can’t say what the new year will bring.  I hope- my raggedy, worn thin, unreliable state of hope- that I find a job.  I hope Husband continues to recover well.  I hope our evil neighbors find something other to do than torment us.  I hope my children stay healthy and dodge the backward blockages of culture and curriculum at school.  I hope my extended family stays healthy and maintains a state of happiness.  I hope the citizens of this country start to pull their heads out and become civil.  I hope those with extreme wealth and privilege realize they don’t live in a bubble and must start taking responsibility for their lives and wealth.  I hope the people who let their cats run wild in my neighborhood keep them in, get them spayed or neutered, or get rid of them.  I hope the song birds come back to my neighborhood.  I hope the frogs, snakes, and newts do too.  I hope my garden is healthy this year.  I hope I can keep going, and have the energy to be a good mom, wife, daughter, relative, friend, and community member.  I hope we find a way, a path, a start to leaving this place.

I hope we are safe.  I hope we are healthy.  I hope we find moments of happiness and laughter.  I will do what I can so my hope is not in a vacuum, not static and passive.  I will live for as long as I am able.  I will try.  Welcome, 2014.  Another cycle around the sun, another 365 days.  The kids feet will continue to grow, gray hair will replace color, and what ever losses occur I hope they are small ones.  Happy New Year.

Halloween

Another October is upon us.  Of course those of us who think Halloween is the very best holiday of the year are thrilled (and simply without any of the guilt of Christmas or Easter, unless you count sneaking your kids tiny Twix from his booty pumpkin).  We have the big box of old costumes to play in, and the boys have been discussing what they want to dress up as for this Halloween since the last one came and went.  I never know what they are going to say, and it can deviate over the course of the ensuing months.  Yet, Segundo seemed to know with great conviction last winter that he absolutely HAD to be James Bond and asked every other week if I had gotten his “tuxedo” yet.

I am not such a fool as to show the entire Bond film collection to children under ten.  But for Christmas last year the family got all the Sean Connery Bonds on DVD and watched them over the course of several weekends.  They are just tame enough, just campy enough, not to be taken too seriously on the scare and sex and violence scales.

The allure of an adult spy with a wry sense of humor and lots of cool gadgets and cars is a no brainer; I was not surprised that Segundo (who is a wry and bright child) finds Bond so much fun.  Husband even joked that Segundo’s good female friend go as a Bond girl (something I do not think her progressive Mennonite parents would approve of).  A funny mental image, but I know Miss E would demand her own water pistol and think of herself more as an Emma Peel type (especially given her behavior at the boys last birthday party when she and Segundo played spies ALL day together).

The tiny tux was an easy Ebay find for under $30, and it included a shirt and slim bow tie.  The shoes are still hiding in some thrift store waiting for me to find them.  The water pistol is spray painted silver, and I hesitated at adding a small plastic martini glass- junking it up and going too far, no matter how momentarily cute.  Besides, the new Skyfall posters have no glasses (and thankfully no cigarettes like the old Connery posters).  Segundo is excited and is just waiting to transform.

Primo at first wanted to be Q from the Bond series, then changed his mind.  He figured it was too much like the mad scientist he went as last year.  After Thor came out on DVD, he was mesmerized.  Segundo cottoned to Captain America and Primo to Thor, as the super hero thing goes.  Their good friends took on Iron Man, Batman, and Spider Man, so all is well.  No competing duplicate heroes on play dates!  SO! One cheap Thor winged helmet and foam Thor hammer from Amazon, a red cape from the costume box, a breast plate from an old knight costume, black sweat pants, a long sleeved grey shirt I painted the lattice work black lines on, black rubber rain boots and viola! Mighty Thor for Primo!

We have been through a bee, dinosaur, ghost, cowboy, Frankenstein’s monster, Indiana Jones; a chef, robot, The Scarecrow (from Wizard of Oz), Dumbledore, The Man in the Yellow Hat (from Curious George), and mad scientist.  The boys have seen costumes on friends of juice boxes, a bag of candy, video game, etc. but they tend not to be interested in inanimate objects and go more for characters.  It is so fun to see them in any get up, but Halloween is special.  I think it is a time when we can take on alter egos, and feel brave (or naughty, or anything other than what we usually feel) and go out into the world.  I know I wish I could dress up with abandon again and just for a little while pretend.  It can get very weary being an adult, and I want to encourage my kids to use their imaginations to experiment with being whomever they can be and see how it feels, test those boundaries, and play out what it means to be “the good guy” and “the bad guy” in different, safe ways.

Schools don’t usually celebrate Halloween anymore, but have a “dress up day” some where in the weeks before Halloween as a concession to the holiday and the primal need for dress up play.  The boys will wear their costumes and have a trial run, getting home after school and gabbing loudly about who wore what.

I don’t go over the top decorating, and wish I had the energy to throw an old school Halloween party.  But again this year I’ll have to just enjoy giving out candy at the door and seeing all the wonderful children in costume.  I’ll put some scary music on the stereo and the pumpkins that the boys carved the week before will be lit (and maybe me too if I can grab a glass of wine), the plastic skeleton will hang from the tree out front and the fake headstone will poke through the front herb garden.  Husband will probably arrange to meet up with Other Dads down the street and walk the gang of kids from door to door.  Our neighborhood still revels in Halloween and people drive in from other neighborhoods to walk our streets.  Porches are decorated and lit, and streams of children run around noisily from five to nine p.m. going house to house.

People will stop and converse, neighbors touch base.  When the night is done and the kids are washing off any chocolate and make-up, the plastic pumpkins emptied and the goods sprawled on the kitchen table, I’ll walk out and extinguish the candles in the pumpkins outside (if the candles have not already melted out by then) and look at the sky.  Some years there has been a moon, some years just clouds.  A cool breeze usually blows, and bats flutter around streetlights to get at the last of the bugs.  Some teenagers will still be lurking around, the pre-driving years types; looking lost, caught between being a kid and being a full-on teen.

Yeah, I’ll sneak a Twix or a tiny Snickers and will quickly sort out the gum and odd candies from the loot and put it into our leftovers bowl for Husband to take to his students the next day.  The rest will get bagged and put into the pantry for the next several weeks’ worth of treats.

We will watch the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and will have watched The Nightmare Before Christmas as part of our Halloween Eve ritual the night before.  The costumes will go into the dress up box, and discussions of what to go as next year will begin.

The holiday let down will happen, the decorations scooped up and taken to the basement the next day.   There will be a pause, the weather will get colder, and Thanksgiving will come and go.  The weekend after Thanksgiving the Christmas decorating begins, and Halloween will slide into memory again.

I adore the old Halloween decorations from the early twentieth century, and the old animated Disney Halloween films (easily visited on You Tube!).   The idea of carving a root vegetable (the original “pumpkin”) comes to mind every year, and jumping over a fire pit (but at my age it’s not a wise thing to do!); scaring away the fears that haunt us about the future, and making peace with our dead and the fear of death (I like the mashing up, the blurring that is occurring with the Latin Day of the Dead and Halloween).

Here comes fall, autumn, the harvest, the time of hunkering down and getting through the winter.  Happy Halloween out there, and if you get a chance- put on a costume and play.

Burnt Toast and Black Jellybeans

Happy Zombie day, as a friend of mine puts it.  Or, as husband says, “Happy ovoid ovum spring fertility ritual day”, or “Happy Bunny day”.  I can’t do anything but laugh at what has become the most important Christian holiday, this mash up of powerful, ancient spring symbols with the death of a good man.  Why his death is so celebrated never ceases to amaze me.  This focus on death, torture, and possibly becoming a zombie (er, resurrected) and then trying to pass it off as sacrifice for the abstract evils of humanity does not wash for me.  There ARE some ideas attributed to him in the bible that make a lot of sense (By the way, the old testament ONLY makes sense if you consider food restrictions as ways not to die from food poisoning.  The rest is a crazy, contradictory non-narrative that makes little sense out of context).  But in sum, a good man bucked the system, said a lot of things that were solid common sense, may or may not have been insane, and lived his life to promote kindness, communal well being, and love.  Then he was consumed and destroyed by the very system he resisted, and has since been regurgitated again and again by every huckster and self-delusional promoter that has come around since he died.  Entire systems of social control have been built around the use and abuse of his life story.  I truly don’t think this is what he had in mind.

When I look at real sacrifices being made, I don’t see political, business, or religious leaders.  I see a lot of mothers and fathers working grinding, often bone mashing jobs to feed their families; these mothers and fathers doing their best to keep their families clothed, housed, educated, and fed.  Oh, yeah, and in most cases the process makes those around them aware that they are loved.  Reproducing at all is amazing, the choice to give over bodies, minds and lives to support and love new people, the ultimate spring symbol. 

It is in the everyday little deaths and sacrifices parents make that I see heroic spring.  Today I do not glorify the death of an admittedly good man who has been so misunderstood for so long, I witness the parents who continue to live, as best they can, promoting kindness, communal well being, and love.  Today let’s not forget when mothers choose to eat the piece of toast that was accidentally burned; or when fathers eat the black jelly beans children reject then proffer, chewing without a grimace.  Do not forget long nights, hard work, the moment by moment sacrifices that are made for families, and the sheer luck that for thousands of generations at least two people (and a host of others who took responsibility for children from birth) had to survive wars, famine, plague, and an assortment of horrors that we might exist today.

The darkness has abated for another year, and warmer weather has come.  The flowers bloom, and crops are planted.  Rejoice in the sun, hug your families however they are structured and populated.  Humanity continues, for better or worse.  Happy spring.  

The flags were made in China

4th of July, 2010.  We saw the Karate Kid remake.  It’s a good “family” movie, and I like Jackie Chan.  The editing is well done, the acting adequate.  The subtle love letter to China understandable.  It was the parade this weekend that got me.  No bands this holiday, a lot of car and motorcycle groups, the newly elected GOP reps walking and riding smugly along, and the tea party making a show with flags and loud music.   Later that evening, a friend showed me a photo he had taken of the flags that were being given out by the parade walkers.  It was clearly stamped on the side “made in China”. We laughed a rueful laugh together.

I read on the net in a paper I usually peruse that international corporations in China are getting itchy because of a recent wave of worker strikes.  They are striking over the things all factory workers strike over.  So the factories are closing down or moving inland to poorer regions.  There is only so much of the globe that can be exploited- or is there? How long before the US becomes just another third-world country, and the factories come back to us because we have the cheap, unskilled, easy labor?  I am disgusted with the complete erasure of “the greater good” discussions about what is best for the most people, especially from our elected officials.  I am sick of ethics classes not being required for a B school degree.  I am sick of infrastructure as a taboo subject.

I wanted to hope.  I know a lot of people who did.  It seems if we continue to hope, we fall into a category of stupid: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time.  Our 4th of July parade was the same format, the same route, the same disappointing motley groups of marchers.  Wave that flag, lick the dripping post-parade icecream and keep the desperation deep in your chest tamped down, drowned out, ignored.  “Keep on keepin’ on” as the sign on the back of the monster truck recommended.  Wipe your brow, nod to a neighbor and agree with the shop keeper to “Have a happy 4th”. Postcard from America 2010.

Spheres of Influence

While aimlessly perusing the messy discount-discount get-rid-of-it-or-we-will aisle at a local store, my four year old and I came across six-inch Star Trek figures.  They had the Doctor (always a classic) , Mr. Sulu (smarty pants with surprise martial arts), and Mr. Checkov (the tech geek), good role models.  He asked politely if they could be his treat for being so good- adding, “One can be for my brother, and one for daddy too!”.  I had to laugh.  They had been marked down to two dollars each.  

Time out I thought.  I don’t want my kids to be random consumers, getting treats for no reason.  We have special days every once and a while when we do something fun, or get a treat (eating out, etc).  But what made this day special?  Husband recalls his mother making cakes for strange (Australia’s nationalization day) or made up days (national camping day).  My wonderful Aunt used to make baked Alaska for no particular reason than to make a day special.  Couldn’t we have a special treat day this day?  If it is spaced out by weeks from another?  January and February are good for that, weeks of cold with little celebration in them.  I dithered within myself.

The thing that got me was how well designed the toys were.  They were basically Barbies for boys.  Finely articulated, with accessories and expressive faces.  I have been greatly annoyed at the lack of male play figures in boy toys.  Ken is a joke, and GI Joe has come to resemble Rambo.  Not my idea of fun.  Even my eldest has remarked on the row upon row of neon pink isles in the Wal-Tar-K’s, stuffed with every variety of dolls imaginable; in contrast to the rag tag shelves for boys.  Finding these figures filled a niche.  I caved.

The great thing is they are still playing with these figures, long after we got them.  Like girls with their Barbies (except no hair to cut), the boys carry out scenarios with the figures.  These scenarios don’t always require guns, beating each other up, or other violence like we have come to expect from boys.  Science fiction can be good that way- lots of monsters, menacing entities, good and bad robots, and problem solving that does not necessarily involve killing something (they have become big fans of the most recent Dr. Who episodes as well, the main character of which refuses to carry a weapon- thank you Netflix).

Husband and I have been fans of the Sci-Fi genre as long as we can remember (not without discretion though).  We appreciate the late night humor of mid-century B films, the abysmal script dialogue of George Lucas, as well as the startling special effects of Avatar.  We also read the genre, and there are many well-written and prescient works from the last fifty years.  When it comes down to it, we enjoy the imaginative possibilities of science fiction to illuminate the condition of the human species, while often putting them in settings that are utterly surreal. 

I would much rather my boys explore the endless planets of Sci-Fi in their imaginations, play out their anxieties and issues using the tools of this genre than some pink hued and shopping bag dominated version of Mean Girls.   On the other hand, maybe that is just one of the worlds they choose to fly by, recognizing that they could stop and chat, but just don’t have time to do so.  Thereby making room for the Barbies (or Barberellas) in their reality, when the Barbies can’t seem to make room for them.

Play on little guys, and let me fly the space ship sometimes too, ok?

My gummy valentine

I have been looking for chocolates (this month candy buying is big for obvious reasons).  But instead of dropping cash for a small box of exquisite chocolates, I want to create a surprise bowl for the entire family that is made up of the odd, the sentimental, and the small production candies.  I remember my mother loving the Cherry Mash mound, with the bright pink soft core and the nubby peanut and chocolate cover.  I still like Necco Wafers.  Husband fondly recalls the Marathon bar (not a small company candy, but out of production it seems from M&M/Mars since 1981). 

So where to get them?  I was perusing the Wall Street Journal today and saw a piece on small candy companies that still produce in the United States.  Steve Almond (www.stevenalmond.com) author of Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, writes about the demise of small candy companies and the plethora of strange and wonderful confections that have fallen by the wayside as a result.  He also writes about those who survive, such as:

  • Chase Candy Company, candy purveyors since 1876. St. Joseph, Missouri, makers of the Cherry Mash among others.  1-800-786-1625, info@cherrymash.com

• Necco Wafers, Clark bars, Sky Bar, Conversation Hearts: They’re all manufactured by New England Confectionery, founded in 1847 and based in Revere, Mass. 781-485-4500 

• Goldenberg Candy, of Peanut Chews fame, founded in 1890 and based in Philadelphia. The Goldenberg family sold out to another family-run company, Just Born, (known for Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, Marshmallow Peeps) in 2003.  1-888-645-3453

• Nashville’s Standard Candy, founded in 1901, is the maker of Goo Goo Clusters, a round cluster of peanuts, caramel, marshmallow and milk chocolate.  615-889-6360

• Sioux City, Iowa, is home to Palmer Candy, founded in 1878 and maker of, among others, Twin Bing, a pair of candies with pink cherry-flavored filling surrounded by crushed peanuts and chocolate.  712-258-5543

• Sifers Valomilk Candy is a five-generation (founded in 1903), family-owned company in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  

• Idaho Candy in Boise, was founded in 1901 and makes the Idaho Spud, Old Faithful Bar and Cherry Cocktail.  1-800-898-6986

• Annabelle Candy in Hayward, Calif., makes Big Hunk, Rocky Road, Look, U-NO and Abba-Zaba. Founded in 1917.  510-783-2900

(This list does not include the wonderful “small batch” chocolatiers which have come into popularity in the last several years, such as Scharffen Berger, Rubens Belgian Chocolates, Richart, Recchiuti, Payard, Burdick, etc.)

It’s strange to think that in the 1950’s there were thousands of small candy companies in this country.  There were all sorts of odd, often regionally popular confections.  Mostly sweet, some savory, and many with strange names.

 As the big three candy companies in the U.S. (already having spent the latter half of the twentieth century buying out as many small companies as possible) Hershey, Nestlé and Mars, streamline their product lines it seems to me small candy companies become more necessary.  Vendors for the products matter too, and I have found that the Vermont Country Store carries many of the small production wonders (and if they don’t, they will readily try to find what you want if you ask them).

So get on the net, and order some weird candy.  Forgo the easy appeal of the bags and boxes in every store, and go for the difficult to find (I like a velvet box as much as the next person, but don’t need another one to store paper clips in).  Make candy a treat again, not just an everyday habit made of the lowest common denominator in flavor and style.  Let me know about your own regional small candy companies too!

Even if Valentines Day is as much a commercial concoction as Mother’s Day, it can be a reason in this bleak, long winter to have fun.  

Just eat

I am sitting here eating a whole grain (really?  I have got to check the box information) pop-tart and drinking Red Rose tea with a shot of milk.  Gourmet snack of choice, of course.  My children are having 1. a kid box of apple juice, 2. a sippy cup of half juice and half water, and each gets one granola snack bar (bought at the local market in the “date off” bin).    For breakfast we had scrambled eggs with fresh mushrooms and the cheese left over from last night.  Milk and tea included.

Why do I detail this?  Because we got the Dean and Deluca Thanksgiving 2008 catalog yesterday (I am not sure why) and I flipped through it as I had my snack.  The photos and descriptions are entertaining, quite pretty even.  BUT– $45 for 16 caramels of normal, pop in your mouth size?  Nothing special thrown in like gold flakes (for that you go to Neiman Marcus), just cooked sugar and some food coloring.  So you get four of each color.  See?  Special- right?  12 cents worth of ingredients, 20 dollars worth of labor, 3 dollars of packaging, say a percentage of marketing that we’ll account for at 1 dollar, for a 26.12 total.  That’s generous too, especially on labor (let’s hope they cover health insurance).  So 25 of what you pay may seem to be profit (we are not discussing shipping and shipping profit cuts here).  BUT,  D&D are the middlemen.  They do not make the items they sell.

Whom ever buys these things should contact me.  I can put you together a killer gift basket or make you something from scratch for less.

Other items in the catalog? How about a small (2.4 pounds) sweet potato pie for $65?  Or sixteen cut out and simply decorated cookies of small size for $65?  A 13.5 pound hunk of prosciutto (that’s Italian for dry aged ham- which I can get locally, organically, for much less) for $400 (that’s over $28 per pound folks)?  Or how about an assortment of tired dried out, prepackaged appetizers like the ones off the Schwanns truck- 24 spanakopita (philo dough triangled with feta cheese and spinach, $45), 8 crab and lobster cakes the size of a quarter ($84), mashed potato toast (I kid you not), chili cheese tartlets, or seafood thermidor puff pastries in frozen packs of 48 pieces for $45-75?  How about a 7” diameter chocolate cake with a pretty candy cane colored frosting for $160?  Or a “13 desserts plate”, of a handful (small, very small handful) of almonds, dried fruit, nougat, (13 average snacks, about 1 oz. each) and so forth for $58?  Or an 18 pound “heritage” turkey for $160?  Granted, it’s organic and not the overbred white variety, but I got a 14 pound, free range turkey for FREE at my local grocery with the coupons I had collected.  Even last year when we blew the budget to buy an organic, free range heritage bird from a local bird man and had it butchered THAT DAY, it only cost us about $100, and it weighed about 24 pounds.

All I can say is “what the heck?”  Who buys this stuff?  I know D&D is used for corporate gifts, it says so on the back of the catalog.  But still—what?  Like the airplane catalogs that advertise for corporate gift giving?  Do they just tell their secretaries to order something, the grunts pull a catalog, and order it on a P.O.?  When others get it, do they say “send a thanks” and then pass it along to THEIR grunts?  What a cycle.  D&D are not the manufacturers either, they are the middle men.  So all the items are made to ship, a time sensitive problem for food.  Just go to the sources people!  There are plenty of high-quality bakers, wineries, and other high quality food producers who would love to sell you their goods directly.

I guess it is a niche in this capitalistic country, because upon searching the internet there are so many middle-people-corporate-gift companies in existence. 

Call me crazy, but I still go for quality and craftsmanship in items as well as good value.  My husbands art?  The materials are usually extraordinarily expensive (gold, silver, etc.) and he mostly uses recycled materials (including his stones), and even when not so expensive (bronze, nickel, etc) he is a painstaking craftsman who spends hours drawing and making an item.  He always seems to sell his work at a loss, and this is not unusual for most artists.  Even the good ones, unless they are very well known.  It burns us up that many who are just good marketers of their work (and the work is often complete crap both technically/craftsmanship wise as well as design and concept related) make money well above it’s real worth.

In food, knowing how to cook is an asset because nothing, absolutely nothing, is as good as fresh, homemade food.  It seems to be the thing no restaurant can duplicate no matter what the signs say.  Husband is an expert apple pie maker, having honed his skills over the years and cross applying his craftsmanship orientation to the process.  He also selects the freshest, local and good apples, and uses real lard in the crust.  It is the best apple pie I have ever had, anywhere.  I think it is worth, say a 9’ diameter deep dish, about $1000 a pie.

Anyone buying (I’ll even ship same day for an added cost)?

Lines at Christmas

So it’s the day after Thanksgiving.  We try to go out for breakfast, and find the only parking lot without circling Detroit vultures is a diner thirty minutes away.  It’s a nice drive at eight a.m.,  hence not a problem.  Then I send my husband off so I can try to get some work done, and after deciding he’ll implode if he takes both kids- he leaves me with a cranky, tired, twenty month old and takes the three and a half year old. Do I get anything done?  If you have children, you do not need to ponder this question.

When he finally returns, after filling the older child up with scone and popcorn in their travels, he tells a tale of woe trying to find brown socks on a day when “lines went from the cash registers to the backs of the stores and there were no parking spaces- at one in the afternoon! I thought all the crazies would be gone by then.  So I went to the hardware store.  No lines.”  Then a  “Harrumph” of triumph.  No socks either, but a few other things on his list I guess.

I have to say I am surprised.  I have always heard about black Friday and avoided it.  I didn’t think it was so bad, I mean really.  Get up at four a.m. on a day off to go score a Barbie VW for 1/3 off the regular price?  Do people honestly get flat screen tv’s for a steal on this day?  I shrug and think: like graduation in a college town, it’s just another reason to stay off the streets.  A few years back I got an email about a movement to boycott the day entirely.  Sure I thought- do what I would do normally and feel morally superior for it.

I drink a cup of tea, watching sunshine stream in the window past the lopsided, recently erected facsimile of a pine tree complete with finger smudged and tampered ornaments.  I think that the Libertarians and the Scientologists ought to get together.  The operating belief systems seem to be very compatible, even if the historical roots are a little wacky.  I just got a chance to read about the founding and perpetuation of Blackwater hired guns forces, and how they operate the business of killing.  The yak they spread is self-defined as libertarian; offering no health, death, or other benefits but a base rate per day check to former military types. 

I heard from the investment director for Husband’s retirement funds (the only “option” he is allowed by the way, being a state employee) that he is a proud, die hard libertarian.  Not the brightest of bulbs either, and both features leave us awake at night, sweating at the thought of where we’ll be in forty years.  Capitalism is its own animal in this United States, and has always had an uneasy relationship with notions of Democracy.  The fun house mirrors that are currently paraded as foundational ideas of “democracy” scare me.  Capitalism needs no image revision, no celebrity.  It is alive and well, scoring billions for the rich and flat screen TV’s for the reaching working class (which includes just about anyone who has to report to work now, given how wages have stagnated, health care costs, etc.). 

Libertarians have a great shtick- work hard, get what you deserve.  Taxes are a joke; society will function fine without public support for any programs.  Kill the government and most of our problems will go away.  Being a libertarian has become a highly popular, and even cool label for people to claim in recent months.  Between Hillary, Obama, Guiliani, and Fred (“just Fred”), a lot of people are discovering libertarianism as the anti Democratic-Republican option.  “Money-Lite!  The perfect diet option for your government needs!”  Who would run under this label is another issue.

Then there is the club that would-not-have-most-as-members, Scientology.  The shtick is good- if you work hard, and obtain “clarity” (a mash up of self knowledge, self importance, and networking with people the club deems important), you’ll get what you deserve and be able to feel self righteous about it, moral even.  See?  Operating assumption very similar, and gaining just as much celebu-popularity.

Oh- and we must not dismiss the ever popular, mega-church evangelical call of “God wants you to be rich”.  The mantra of those Christian Amway salespersons in the 70’s and 80’s, it is still a popular way to sell religion and membership.  Only in this variation, it seems to be appear to be good, appear to work hard, and you’ll get what you deserve.  The details are a little fuzzy, and can be written off to the convenient last minute option of redemption no matter what one does in life.

Notions of charity, goodwill, social responsibility, and “do unto others” seems to be, well, missing from all of these operating positions.  As every inflatable crèche goes up this weekend from mall to church side yard, I wonder what relation any of our cultural practices and identifications has to do with the basic teachings of Jesus. In my lazy, over-simplified way I distill biblical morality into two principles, or “Do’s”:  Do unto others as you would have them do to you (a very complex notion, and includes issues of social responsibility), and the old testament rule of Care for the earth and all that is in it.  The big 7 Deadlies and the 10 Don’ts hawked by everyone from G.W. Bush to your local plaid or frock wearing, comb-over minister still matter but if the 2 “Do’s” are adhered to, it seems that the Deadlies and Don’ts follow as a matter of course, and need a lot less attention paid to them.

Running to get bargains?  Well, as the film Wallstreet made famous, “Greed is good”, right?  The Libertarians, Scientologists, and Disney-esque (Ah, Steve Jobs and the Pixar take over- another rant) Supersized Mega Churches might blush a little, but nod their collective heads in agreement.  Go get those bargains you Free Americans you! 

I don’t claim to be any better or less muddled, but different.  Ok, different sometimes, by choice, when I can. But right now I have to take an insulin crashed toddler upstairs to lie down.

Black Friday indeed.