Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I have no problem with buying presents for Christmas; it has been part of the Christmas tradition for a very long time.  I have no problem with wanting to save money; things are far too expensive to not care how much they cost.  I have no problem with going to a sale; gifts for loved ones can be bought while saving money at the same time.  I have no problem with businesses making money; you go into business to make money.  Fine?  Fine.

So, at this time of year, you might be wondering what my issue is.  My issue is what this time of year has become, or should I say how it has deteriorated. 

When I was wee young lad, turning the clocks back forty to forty-five years, this time of year was far, far different.  It was different at home and in the stores.  Some homes would have some Thanksgiving decorations and a few stores did as well.  Thanksgiving was an entity unto itself, and not just because it fell on a separate date from Christmas. 

Not that it's completely lost nowadays, but Thanksgiving had a meaning and held a meaning for people.  It was the day for family gatherings, family reunions, and, most importantly, for giving thanks for what you have.  Far more people and families back then, I dare say, took the giving thanks part seriously.  The mindset was different then, in that acknowledging what you have, regardless of how much or how little you had, was important.  It was not just a going through the motions, but an annual ritual that showed mindfulness and gratitude.

Christmas, on the other hand, was its own creature, too.  Home Christmas decorations were far more prevalent then than now.  I remember as clearly as it was yesterday my father taking me for a ride at night to go around and look at all the homes decorated for Christmas, and I know other families did that.  That, too, was a tradition for some.

Stores would slowly put up a few, just a few, Christmas decorations prior to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  Usually it was just strings of lights, fake snow (the kind you spray on windows and spread out on shelves and displays), and maybe artificial Christmas trees for sale.  Once that Friday arrived, however, it seemed that the decorations multiplied.  I presume folks came in or stayed over on Thanksgiving Eve, after their store closed, and finished decorating the stores.  This way, the stores would appear magical when they reopened after being closed for the holiday...and they were closed for the holiday.

Thanksgiving is probably the only non-religious holiday that's specifically meant for giving thanks.  (Well, unless you count Groundhog Day, and being thankful if the groundhog does not see his shadow, meaning an early Spring.)  Christmas is a religious holiday marking the birth of Jesus.  The thing is, aside from cognitively knowing these things, maybe, you would not recognize them anymore.

Television shows for children, such as 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer', 'Frosty the Snowman', 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town', and 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', among others, never aired before Thanksgiving. Never!  Live actions shows like Bing Crosby Christmas specials, variety show specials, and Bob Hope's entertaining the troops in Vietnam, to name a few, also aired after Thanksgiving.  They were for Christmas, and Christmas comes after Thanksgiving.  It was like that for decades and all was right with the world.  The public never complained; companies never complained.

In the past twenty years or so, and even more intensely in the past ten years, a change has been happening.  I call it the neutering of Thanksgiving and the forcing of Christmas.  When a store advertised a Thanksgiving sale, the sale was over by the end of the day on Thanksgiving Eve.  Thanksgiving was a holiday, and holidays meant something to proprietor, employee, and customer alike. 

Thanksgiving is becoming just another Christmas shopping day.  There are stores this year opening as early as 6:00 p.m., on Thanksgiving night and remaining open overnight to the end of the shopping day on Black Friday.  This is after stores were opening at 7:00 a.m., then, 5:00 a.m., then midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day has crept up from 10:00 p.m., to 8:00 p.m., and now 6:00 p.m.  How long do you think it will be before stores are open regular Thursday hours on Thanksgiving Day itself?

For several years now, a few radio stations have started playing Christmas music -- some of them playing only Christmas music -- before Thanksgiving.  That, too, never happened years ago.  This year, two stations near me began playing music around the second week of November.  I am one of those folks who really doesn't want to hear Christmas tunes until after Thanksgiving, and then I listen to them with great joy.  Television commercials with distinctive Christmas themes started airing around the same time.

Do I hate Christmas?  Absolutely not.  Granted, it doesn't hold as much significance as it did when I was much younger, but hate it?  No.  My point is that consumers and companies alike knew Christmas would get here when it got here, and decorations and sales came around in due course.

Now, Thanksgiving is just another Christmas shopping day.  (What difference does one extra day make, anyway?)  Families still gather and give thanks on Thanksgiving, but the real meaning of the day, on a broad scale, has been neutered.  The radio stations and stores that play Christmas tunes so early, since Christmas has been so commercialized, have turned those festive musical treats into clarion calls to consumerism.  That is a forcing of Christmas.

All of this is also a devaluing of the family.  Make a holiday for thanks into another work day: your family can wait.  Make the consumerism aspect of Christmas extend earlier and earlier into the year: so what if family members are out shopping or too tired to fully engage in family functions (or run the risk of getting trampled on)?

There are a few exceptions to all of this that deserve highlighting.  On the positive side, one is P.C. Richard & Son, the largest chain of privately-owned appliance and electronics stores in the United States, even with stores in only four states: Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.  This is its eighteenth year of taking out ads slamming retailers who open on Thanksgiving, citing that it is a "show [of] no respect to their employees".

Another positive example can be found in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  Those three states have blue laws which ban stores to be open on Thanksgiving Day.  In addition to those states and P.C. Richard & Son, five other major retailers that do not open on Thanksgiving are Burlington Coat Factory, Costco, Marshalls, Nordstrom, and TJ Maxx.  Kudos to them all.

Some get it, others do not.  A negative example is a story of a Pizza Hut general manager in Indiana who wanted to
close his restaurant for Thanksgiving.  (Seriously, who thinks of Pizza Hut for Thanksgiving?  Anybody?)  His superiors told him to keep his restaurant open or leave his position.  The general manager said he was let go; a Pizza Hut representative said he quit on his own accord.  Either way, it is another example of the devaluing of the family.

The sad truth is that there will be a day when Thanksgiving is just another work week Thursday... 

...and people will be standing in line for Labor Day Christmas sales.


Friday, November 22, 2013


A sunny Friday afternoon in Dallas, Texas.  Crowds line the streets.  A presidential motorcade goes by.  Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson sit in the third car with Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough.  Inside the first car sits the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie.  

A large crowd has assembled for a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart, awaiting the President's arrival to give a speech.  He would never arrive to deliver that speech.  

At 12:30 p.m., local Dallas time, three shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.  It would be approximately a half-hour later that the President was officially pronounced dead, and Governor Connally wounded.  

Kennedy became the second president assassinated in the twentieth century, and the fourth president ever assassinated.  Before Kennedy, William McKinley was assassinated in 1901; James Garfield was assassinated in 1881; Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

Radio stations first broke the news of the shooting.  This is the first radio bulletin:
Here's how the three major television networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC, broke the news:

I'll preface this next thought by saying it is not a case of the American public getting used to assassinations, but the first three assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley) took place within a span of thirty-six years.  The span of years between McKinley's and Kennedy's assassinations was sixty-two years.  In addition to many more failed assassination attempts, the American public was more than a couple of generations removed from such shocking news. 

As President Kennedy has been referred to as the "first television president", the television coverage brought the horror directly into peoples' homes.  No one will forget the images of the basement of the Dallas police building with the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald...
...Jackie Kennedy kneeling next to John Kennedy's coffin as he lay in state...
...and JFK, Jr., saluting his dad.

The sorrow that gripped the U.S. and even around the world resulted for a number of reasons.  One would clearly be how young and vibrant he was.  Much like those who died far too young in their lives, Kennedy's death was far too soon; he was only forty-six years old.  Another was that he was perceived as a good man, a man who wanted to change things for the better.  Another was that he challenged us to dream big and to try big.  Yet another was the promise for a better tomorrow that he represented...a promise unfulfilled.  

It's that promise unfulfilled that still lingers even today.  It is always better to look at what is and what will be than what could have been, but that could-have-been is where the sorrow lingers.  While many not-so-pleasant pieces of information about Kennedy's life has come out into the open over the successive decades, those shortcomings are unfortunate expressions of his humanity.  It is still important to remember that the potential of which I write rests solely in the doing for others.  

How different this country, and perhaps the world, would have been had he served his time in office, we will never know for certain.  Mere speculation attempts to fill that hole.  It was this event that spawned the conspiracy theory era -- remember, this occurred before the Gulf of Tonkin "event" during Johnson's administration was exposed as a hoax -- and it is an era that still exists today.  No amount of speculation will bring back John F. Kennedy, however, but the distrust remains.  It was an assassination of both a man and of hope.

One big thing that John F. Kennedy represented was hope: hope in ourselves, hope in each other, hope in our government, hope in humanity...hope that a better tomorrow was not just possible, but actually achievable.  Such hope cut short so abruptly and so violently is a huge jolt, and it might be argued that it is a jolt from which this country has not fully recovered.  

In the successive decades since Kennedy's assassination, and particularly as we have entered the twenty-first century, such expansive hope is hard to find...certainly almost impossible to find in government.  The kind of hope Kennedy embodied was not a kind of digging our way out of a hole, but of challenge and potential.  What hope we have now is the kind where we hope we get dug out of a hole.  It is a very different kind of hope...from empowerment to angry wistfulness.

Certainly, it is not the hope Kennedy wanted instilled in us all.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


From 1861 to 1865, the United State was at war with itself.  It was the American Civil War, fought on its own soil.  At the beginning of the war, thirty-four states comprised the United States, with two more added by the war's end.

Three key issues were at the heart of start of the war: slavery, states' rights, and westward expansion.  With tensions between northern and southern states increasing, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, who was openly anti-slavery, caused seven southern states to secede from the union (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas).  That number increased by four (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia) after the battle at Fort Sumter, the war's start.  The eleven states were known as the Confederate States of America.  The War Between the States, as it was known, not only pitted militias from states against one another, but also, literally, brother against brother.  Nearly one-quarter of all those who fought in the war died.  

At what would eventually become the midpoint of the war, a special dedication ceremony took place.  The Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- a cemetery for Union soldiers, that even has monuments to both Union and Confederate soldiers -- was dedicated on November 19, 1863, roughly four-and-a-half months after the Union victory at the battle of Gettysburg. 

The main speaker at the cemetery's dedication was Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State as well as former Massachusetts Governor, Representative, and Senator, among many other notable accomplishments.  His speech, in terms of time, eclipsed Lincoln's remarks.  Everett spoke first, for two hours; Lincoln spoke second, for just three minutes.  In terms of remembrance and broadest importance, however, the 272 words Lincoln spoke have eclipsed Everett's lengthy oratory for a century-and-a-half.

His words spoke of the young nation's history to the testing of its mettle with the war; to honoring the war dead to what their sacrifice meant; to the continuing work of a greater good to the perseverance of a nation.  It has been noted that Lincoln may have been interrupted as much as five times in his three minute commentary.  

No words I have can match those of Mr. Lincoln.  There are several versions of the text, but the words below are those that are most often cited and which appear on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battle-field of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. 

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

His words signal the cost of liberty and how high that cost can be; they remind us of the sacrifices made in the name of establishing this country...and, for us in 2013, how such conflict must never come to pass again.

Mr. Lincoln, we still remember and still note with reverence your words for this nation, seven-and-a-half score later.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Term of the Day: WEDDING DAY

Today, two friends of mine got married.  Now that, in and of itself, might not necessarily be noteworthy for a blog posting.  One notable thing is that they wanted to go ahead and do this for a long time.  Another notable thing is that they are both in their sixties.  They have been together for thirty-four years.  Yes, thirty-four years!

Another notable thing still is that they are gay.  

Both my friends and I live in New Jersey, where gay marriage was given the final green light last week.  A number of years ago, when civil unions were approved here, they went and had a civil union ceremony.  The problem, however, is that civil unions nationwide, not just here in New Jersey, do not allow the same benefits as marriage.  Thus, there was no equality.  Gay couples could have the ceremony (that is, in those states that allowed civil unions) and the paper to prove it, but they did not have the same rights as heterosexual married couples.  Is gay marriage a civil rights issue?  You bet.

All of the arguments against gay marriage are based in religious beliefs.  If that is what you believe religiously, that is your right, but it grants you no right to stop others.  If you are against gay marriage, then don't marry someone of the same gender.  Legalized inequality, like the lack of marriage equality, is not a religious issue; it is a legal issue.  Many people had argued about the term "marriage" for gay couples.  Personally, as a straight ally, I didn't see the need for the haggling.  Call it "marriage" or something else -- the main issue is legal equality.  The moniker is not what's important; equality is what's important.  Inequality is intolerable.

New Jersey became the fourteenth state in America that allows gay marriage, making gay marriage legal in twenty-eight percent of the country.  

After thirty-four years of being together, their commitment is clear.  All they have ever wanted was to be treated equally under the law -- nothing more, nothing less.  I am so happy for my friends and wish them all the best into their thirty-fifth year together and beyond.