Turkey, Please, and Hold the Mistletoe
It's nearly Thanksgiving, and that means that, wherever you may be, you've almost certainly heard someone complaining about the Christmas decorations which are already everywhere. They'll probably rant about the ever-increasing commercialization of the holiday perverting the Christmas spirit. Well, it's my turn to complain, but not for that reason. For me it's much simpler: I want to enjoy the coming holiday before I get to the next one.
In Huntington Beach, on the corner of Warner and Beach, there is a tall office building. Every year during the holiday season, a huge Christmas tree-shaped light arrangement is put on the roof. You can see it from literally miles around. My wife, of course, loves Christmas and can't wait to see that tree every year. This year it went up on October 30th. That's right, I said October. It's not enough that Thanksgiving is pre-empted, now we have to bulldoze right over Halloween as well.
Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family. It's a holiday I look forward to all year; it's my mom's favorite of them all. I think it has something to do with our love of food. Whatever the reason, Thanksgiving is a special time for me, a time for family and close friends, for tradition, for warm feelings and the satisfaction of an uncomfortably full stomach.
And why shouldn't Thanksgiving be a holiday for all Americans? It's not a religious holiday, and so it has none of the same controversy that Christmas does. No, it is a holiday for all Americans. It is a time for us all to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, a time to be with those you love and who love you, and, aside from all of the rest, a time to eat.
So come on and give Thanksgiving a chance! Leave your Christmas decorations down until Friday and have a happy Turkey Day!
Support Your Local Arts
This past weekend I went and saw a community theater production for the first time in years. The play was Picnic, by William Inge, and the venue was the Huntington Beach Playhouse. This play has a special place in my heart because one of the first scene studies I ever did was from this play (I was Alan, and my best friend was Hal).
I had quite a nice time. The production did suffer from many of the problems that community productions often do, but it was still fun to see. It reminded me of the days when I was more involved with the theater. I made a lot of friends in my high school theater department. I met my future wife in one of those high school productions. And in college some of my fondest memories involve acting in or directing plays.
It was nice to see that one of the actors was a high school student. Participation in the arts can be just as important in building a child's identity as sports or other extracurriculars. Theater helped me become more outgoing and shaped many of my experiences later in life. It remains a strong part of who I am, even though I don't have much time these days to be involved in shows.
And community arts aren't just for the artists. There is always plenty of room, and need, for volunteers to help bring off any community arts program, whether it be theater, music, or visual arts. So you're not a musician? Maybe your local choir needs help working their sound system. Not good with electronics? Maybe you could help paint sets for your community theater. No technical skills? Help raise funds for an art show or work the box office at a performance. Trust me, there's a way you can help.
But maybe you just don't have the time to commit your weekends to volunteer work. I bet you still have time to go see a show. And you're probably bored with television anyway! Not a big fan of the arts? You might be surprised. So you don't get Picasso. Go check out the photography expo at your local junior college. Or maybe you don't like classical music. Why not try the Latin music festival? Trust me, there's something for everyone. And not only can you alleviate your boredom and take in a little culture, but by buying that ticket you are helping support a vital part of your community.
Whether you're an artist, a volunteer, or even a patron, there's a place in your local arts for you. Well, what are you waiting for?
Things I Highly Recommend
- Getting married in Big Sur, CA. Not only one of the most naturally beautiful places I've ever seen, but also very special to me because that's where my wife grew up as well as where I lived for a while in my childhood.
- Breakfast at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. Some of the best Eggs Benedict I've ever had.
- Lunch at the Big Sur River Inn. Sure, the burger is kind of expensive, but it's mighty tasty (and still the cheapest in Big Sur). Plenty of good stuff apart from the burger, too; it's my favorite restaurant for lunch. And, for dessert, the apple pie is my second favorite in this world (I have to give my mom's the number one spot).
- Dinner at Ventana. They have a filet mignon that just melts in your mouth, and if you go right around sunset you have a spectacular view of the sun going down over the ocean.
- The bathrooms in the Salt Lake City Airport. Cleanest airport bathrooms ever.
- Renting a convertible in Hawaii. Yeah, it immediately marks you as a tourist, but it's so nice to feel the wind in your hair.
- The Hotel Hana Maui. Hands down the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. The road to Hana is very twisty and a bit stressful (since all of the other people on the road are also tourists), but as soon as you get there it all just melts away. The staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. It's also very close to Hamoa Beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. And if you're into horseback riding, the hotel runs tours on a couple of trails that offer some amazing views.
- Tony and Tina's Wedding. A very interesting off-Broadway production that makes you feel like you really are a wedding guest. It takes interactive theater to a level I've never experienced before.
- Breakfast at the Sea House Restaurant. About six or seven miles outside of Lahaina, it overlooks a beautiful bay and has a great view of Molokai (or maybe it was Lanai, I can't remember) and the food is excellent.
- The Koloa Fish Market. In Koloa, on Kaua'i, there is this tiny, hole-in-the-wall fish market that sells lunch plates that are to die for. There are no seats, indeed there's barely enough room to turn around, but the fish is so fresh and the prices are extremely reasonable.
- Air Kaua'i Helicopter Tours. Not for those who are afraid of heights, but for everyone else, it's amazing. Even the locals on Kaua'i say the helicopter tours are great, and with good reason. Such a beautiful place, and seeing it from a bird's-eye view is even better. And the Air Kaua'i helicopters have huge windows, which makes for a great viewing experience.
- Brick Oven Pizza, in Kalaheo. Also on Kaua'i. They have good pizza. Really good pizza.
- Marrying the one you love. My wedding was the best day of my life. We've been together for almost seven years, since high school. In that time we've had a lot of experiences. We've grown, and grown up, together. I can think of nothing better than knowing that this is the person that I'm going to grow old with, share my life with. I can't wait to see what the future will bring.
Why I Hate Radio
I am a commuter. I don't like being a commuter, but the simple fact of my dislike for it does not change that fact that I am one. So I try to make the best of it. One of the simplest and most common ways that people make long car trips more bearable is by listening to music. When I was in high school, there were only two stations that ever played anything I could tolerate, so I mostly listened to CDs. Since, however, I moved down to the LA area, I've been listening to radio more and more. But I've come to realize that, no matter where you are, whether it be out in the sticks like my hometown, or in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles, radio sucks.
Here's why. How often has this happened to you? You're on the way home after a long day at work and you want a little entertainment for the drive. You turn on the radio to your favorite channel. After an interminably long commercial break (don't even get me started on radio commercials, my GOD, people, what are you doing?) the music finally comes back, only, you've heard this song already today. So you change to some other channel, only they are playing THE SAME DAMN SONG. You scan through your presets to no avail, they are ALL playing that song. So you grit your teeth and sit through it, trying not to pay attention. Finally it ends. You get three more, one of which you like, one more that you hate, and one that came out about two weeks ago, but you've already heard 37 times and it's starting to get old (even though the album isn't going to be released for another week). Then there's another commercial break. You scan around, waiting for the break to end. It finally does and you return to your station, only to find that they are playing that first song, AGAIN.
Alright, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. But how much, really? Not that much. I am sick and tired of hearing the same 20 songs every day! And I doubt I'm the only one.
Now let's think about this for a minute. The record companies have to pick one or two tracksfrom an upcoming album to release to the radio stations in order to promote that album. They pay the radio guys to make sure it gets played at least a certain number of times each day. This way, they think, the album gets exposure and people will want to buy it.
I may be an atypical music shopper, but I don't rush out and buy every new CD as soon as it hits the racks. So when I am constantly bombarded by the same song multiple times each day (actually multiple times in one drive, no joke), I get sick of it well before I get around to buying the album. So there goes the revenue for one sale. But, alas, I realize that a lot those impressionable teens out there need to be cool and have the very latest thing, so they DO go out and buy on the first day. So maybe the overplaying thing isn't so bad. But wait, the record companies need to promote the albums BEFORE they go on sale, so that people will know about it and want to buy it. The end result? I tire of music BEFORE it ever gets to the stores.
I understand that this is all about the money, and those record company guys will do anything to make a buck, but if they want MY hard-earned cash, they need to stop laying it on so thick. Let the radio stations have a little variety, record guys, otherwise I'll not only be unwilling to buy the CDs, but I'll be unable to listen to mainstream radio and be forced to listen to that member-supported jazz station (which, by the way, is a great great station: KLON 88.1).
One Nation, Divisible
Last month, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is unconstitutional to require schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, due to the phrase "one nation, under God." Shortly thereafter, it stayed the decision, and it is widely expected that the Supreme Court will overturn the case. The court's ruling was widely unpopular in both houses of Congress, generating such senatorial statements as "This decision is nuts, just nuts," and "If this decision is not overturned, we will amend the Constitution." Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie declared, "We acknowledge the separation of sectarianism and state, but affirm the belief that there is no separation between God and state," for which he was lauded by the Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle. While I know that many, if not most, Americans soundly agree with the strong support for the retention of the "under God" wording, I can't help but feel a profound discomfort with the idea, and, since I am an atheist, just a bit of worry for my own future.
Now, don't get me wrong. I firmly believe in the rights of all people to hold and practice whatever beliefs or religions they like, so long as they do not harm other people. (Oh sure, I might argue with people that disagree with me, but I still believe that they should be allowed to have such beliefs.) You can't take people's beliefs away from them. Not only is it impossible, but it is pointless and cruel. However, embedded within that statement of my opinions, is the idea that people do not need to belong to monotheistic religions, or any religions at all.
The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That last part is known as the Free Exercise Clause. Part of the established interpretation of that clause is that "government may not penalize or discriminate against an individual or a group of individuals because of their religious views nor may it compel persons to affirm any particular beliefs." That was taken from the Analysis and Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States of America, which was prepared by the Library of Congress. That seems to pretty much sum it up, to my mind. And yet, despite that interpretation, we have people like George Bush, Sr. saying, "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." Even though the 6th Article of the Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States," we have people like George Bush, Jr., saying that he intends to appoint "judges who understand that our rights were derived from God."
What about the hundreds of Buddhist Japanese-Americans that were wounded or killed during World War II as part of the 442nd RCT (the most highly decorated unit in American history for its size and length of service), to say nothing of those non-Christian soldiers in subsequent and present wars? Are they no longer to be considered patriots, much less citizens? What about some of the founders of our great nation, like Jefferson or Paine, who, although they believed in God, rejected organized religion? What about people like me, who aside from being born and raised here by parents who were born and raised here, not only contribute to America through our jobs, but also hold the American ideal (read that as freedom) in our hearts? I guess I can't speak for anyone other than myself, but I feel neither represented nor protected by a government that has neither understanding nor compassion for people like me. What makes our country great is that all people, regardless of race, religion, financial status or country of origin, have the same rights and freedoms under the law. That despite our differences, we can all be a part of something great (ever wondered what "E Pluribus Unum" means?). So rather than seeing this as an attempt to take something away from anyone (it's not, it's just saying that schoolkids shouldn't be required to say two words that weren't even in there 50 years ago), try to take this opportunity to understand that we aren't all the same, and that, rather than a weakness, this is a strength.
[Editor's Note: It's been pointed out to me that the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" actually refers to the union of the original thirteen colonies, and that applying it as I have done in this piece is a stretch. I'll let my wording stand as is, having noted the actual origins of the phrase; changing it at this point would feel dishonest to me.]
To Protect and Serve
Way back in February, I had a strange encounter with the law. It's just after 5 o'clock, so I'm leaving work. It's a good job. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I'm as happy as as the next guy to go home. So I round the first corner, and immediately, traffic is stopped dead. Despite the fact that I work in Orange county, this is unusual at this particular intersection. It turns out that the local police have erected a driver's license checkpoint. Alright now, stop right there. A driver's license checkpoint? I've only lived in this state for 22 years, and on this side of it for 5, and I've never heard of such a thing. Well, I guess there's a first time for everything.
Back to the story. Having been at work all day, I'm completely sober (in fact, at that point it may well have been a week or so since I'd had a drink), and I have my license, registration and proof of insurance. I figure I'm in the clear. Wrong. I wait my turn and finally pull up to the officer at the intersection and hold out my license. He glares at me and blares, "You have tint on your windows." True enough, I bought my car used (or pre-owned, if you prefer) and it came with tinted windows. I hesitantly agree with the annoyed-seeming man outside my rolled-down, tinted window.
"The legal limit for tint is 12%," he says, just this side of a shout. "That looks like 20, maybe even 30."
I try to explain that it was like that when I bought it, and the dealer had told me that it should be in compliance.
"Did the dealer give you a certificate of compliance?"
"Pull off to the side over there. You're going to have to take that tint off your windows." he says, voice dripping with impatience, perhaps even a hint of disgust.
About thirty minutes later I drive away with my first fix-it ticket.
Now really, with all that goes on in the world, especially in this screwed-up half of the state, do the cops really have so little to do that they have to entertain themselves with "driver's license checkpoints?" I mean, come on! I can understand sobriety checkpoints, at least then they're actually protecting other drivers from people who are a danger on the road. Are my windows really so dangerous that you not only have to give me a ticket, but in addition talk to me with a tone suggesting that not only am I retarded, but also some sort of moral deviant? If they were that hard up to meet their ticket quotas, they could quite easily pull over fifty cars in just a few hours a block away from where my windows were endangering the public. Seriously, why give me a ticket while completely ignoring literally hundreds of motorists going at least 15 over the limit, only a quarter mile away? I have yet to see a person pulled over on my way to work where at least one car in ten is going more than 10 over, and yet I have to take time out of my week to go to the courthouse, wait in line and pay $75 (in addition to the cost of having my windows fixed).
And people wonder why the crime rate never seems to go down.
The Road Ahead
Considering the situation in the world today, and also how I spend my days[*], I could hardly fail to spend a lot of time thinking about the war. Don't let the name fool you, I'm a 100% home-grown, natural-born, red-blooded, all-American boy. I love this country, always have and always will, but just because you love someone doesn't mean you agree with everything he or she does.
Let me start by saying that I believe this war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban to be completely justified and appropriate. I got picked on a lot in high school, and one of the truly valuable lessons I learned from this experience was that if you let someone take advantage of you, they will continue to do so. Simply allowing a terrorist attack on our soil to occur without retaliation would be an invitation for more violence.
However, I do not believe that the United States has the resources to take on the whole world at once. True, we are the most powerful nation, and we have allies. But both our power and our friends are limited. I was reading another writer's editorial about a month ago and he claimed that the days of a grand alliance like we saw in WWII are gone. By the year 2050, Europe is expected to have half the population of today. Much of the West is in decline, at least in numbers. This is what happens when civilization sets in: the birth rate falls. And our stance at the top of the world? You may think that we'll be on this peak forever, but I'm sure that the Egyptians, Romans, Mongols and British felt that way as well, in their respective heydays. The US has plenty of advantages, no doubt. High immigration gives us a stable workforce, unlike many European countries. Technology and innovation keep us productive and ahead of the rest of the world in terms of medicine, military and information. But to expect that we will be giants forever is folly.
So many people feel that once we are finished with the Taliban (and despite their tenacity we will finish them), we need to turn those tanks around and beat down the doors at Baghdad, then on to smash any other Arab nation that stands in our way. But the bottom line is, we don't have the resources to fight the entire Arab world. The column I mentioned earlier also mentioned that Islam will soon very likely be the most populous religion in the world (it is currently the fastest-growing), as well as the fact that the population booms happen in the third world, including the Middle East. What we need to do is not to win the war, but to find a way through this situation, to find a solution to this problem. A recent survey stated that, indeed, many people in Arab countries harbor bad feelings toward the US, but not blindly. They fear that we wish to impose our will, our government, our religion upon them. We need to show them that this is not true. The situation after the first World War should show us that conquest is not the answer. Crushing an enemy gives rise to a new generation of hatred. What we need is to eliminate not those who hate us, but the reasons for which they do. Only through solid communication and forging strong connections with the rest of the world will we find a path that leads to peace.
* If you know me, and since you're reading this, you most likely know what I do. If you don't know me, well, too bad, I'm not telling you. I mean, come on, I don't know anything about you, do I?