Friday, September 24, 2010

Why Jon Stewart's Rally Matters

I still haven't been blogging on political matters the way I used to. The discourse in this country has gotten so low, the standards of both parties so poor, that I no longer feel as if they are speaking to me or anyone I know. The Democrats can't manage to stand up for one principle, all the while blaming all their problems on the Republicans. The Republicans, of course, are reprehensible beyond all belief, refusing to go along with a single thing the President wants done.

The Democrats buried the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal in some obscure part of a military spending bill, then tacked on some other controversial stuff (the DREAM Act)and then didn't let the Republicans make every single amendment they wanted to make.

So as usual the Republicans had a hissy fit, got their 60 votes to vote the whole thing down, effectively killing DADT repeal until after the election, at the very least. Naturally the Republicans probably would've voted it down anyway, just for spite, but they were able to come up with some plausible, if silly, reasons to do it at this particular time.

As ever, the GOP bears the greatest responsibility for having once again denied LGBT Americans from openly serving in the armed forces. But I can't help but wonder if the Democrats could've handled it better. Either way, it is just one more sign of the massive divisions in this country, and how no one in government can manage to get anything done.

...Which brings us to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Last Thursday night, September 16, on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart announced that he is holding a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 30, 2010, to "Restore Sanity." Using a montage of video clips, he demonstrated the extremist rhetoric on both the left and the right.

He pointed out that 70-80% of the population is not part of the far left or far right, but we never hear from them "because you have sh*t to do."

See below for the full announcement:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

His announcement, done in tandem with Stephen Colbert, was followed by Stephen Colbert's own announcement for a rally on the same day: His satirical "March to Keep Fear Alive.".

Both rallies will happen simultaneously on the Mall and no doubt will attract the same type of audience members, as I'm sure they planned.

Something about these rallies, particularly the idea of restoring sanity, has resonated with many Americans. Not only have over 100,000 people said they are attending on Facebook, but satellite rallies are being formed all over the country.

Now, I am not a person who goes to rallies; in fact, I really don't like crowds at all. The only march I ever went on was in 1972 when I was a freshman in college, and on the first Earth Day, everyone marched on Boston Common protesting the war (Vietnam of course) and marching for the environment. Then they stopped having marches. The apathy of the 70s began and that was the end of it all, at least for me. Maybe the beer was part of the reason, I'm not sure.

Anyway, when I heard about the Rally to Restore Sanity, my first reaction was, "Let's go! We should DO this!" My husband grunted and ignored me. It was 11:15 p.m., he was tired, he figured I'd forget about it by the next day. But I didn't. I started talking about it again. He said I was nuts, he said "This is no 1963 march on Washington - they're COMEDIANS! They're trying to make money!" But I persisted. It also helped that a very good friend of mine, who is always up for doing something spontaneous, also thought it was a great idea. So guess what? We're all going! Me, DH, my friend, her husband and probably even their daughter.

Not only are we going, but many of my blogger and Facebook friends are going. People I haven't seen since college are going. This could be big.

"So what," you may say. "Your husband's right. Jon Stewart is just a comedian. Why are people taking this seriously, as if it matters?"

The answer is, he has struck a nerve with the American people. I think everyone is sick to death of hearing the wrangling going on in Congress. Nothing gets done. The Republicans in government are perfectly happy with that, but most Independents and moderate Republicans in the Real World are not. Those of us on the left are sorely disappointed that so many of the changes Candidate Obama promised are not taking place under President Obama, or if they are, they are being watered down until they are but a shadow of what was promised, just to get them past the Congress.

Those of us who have worked in the business world know that nothing gets done unless people are willing to see the other side of things, and to work with those with whom they may not see eye-to-eye. But in Congress, it seems as if the participants never learned this. To them, it's "My side has to win at all costs." They don't care whether their "win" is a win for the American people or not.

Politics doesn't just make strange bedfellows. Politics also makes people power-hungry, greedy and angry. I'd be willing to bet that testosterone levels go up in members of either gender once they get involved in politics.

One reason is, there is something wrong with a system that has House Representatives up for re-election every two years. For all intents and purposes, these people are campaigning 24/7 for 24 months. There is never a real opportunity or incentive to settle down and work with each other, especially since the whole House turns over at once, every election cycle. Those elected to the Senate, at least, have six-year terms, which allow them some opportunity to actually do some work, which is why the Senate appears marginally more sane than the House. However, there is still always someone up for re-election each cycle, so it's not as if politics doesn't play a part at all times there as well.

And what about the poor President? He has a four-year term, but after the first two years, he too is starting to run for re-election. Heck, the other side starts thinking of who they're going to put up against him next time during the month after his election!

At one time, when the Founding Fathers first came up with the idea of the Congress, they had no idea there would be people who made a career out of being in politics. They never envisioned six-term or seven-term Congressmen, or Senators who served 40 years in office. They thought people wouldn't want to be away from their farms that long; that one term, or maybe two, would be quite enough. It is time for a change in how Congress does business. We need longer terms, and fewer of them, for the House, and term limits for the Senate.

But I digress. "What about Jon Stewart's Rally?" you say. "I thought that's what we were talking about."

It is. But one reason for the partisan politics getting worse and worse is the constant election cycles, as well as, of course, Cable News shows - "News" being a term I use loosely, since none of these shows are news shows anymore, they are all partisan on one side or another.

The media truly is the message. That's why all we see on these shows are the Tea Partiers. It doesn't matter that these people are a small part of the total population, they're making all the noise, and they're getting all the publicity. Glenn Beck's rally in Washington had all kinds of coverage on every station, and the pictures of the rally showed a sea of faces at the Mall, giving the impression that his followers are a huge Movement.

Now, finally, the rest of us have a chance to have OUR say. Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" will give the moderates (and liberals - since most of Stewart and Colbert's fans lean left) - a chance to show their numbers. Even among liberals, many of us decry the nasty discourse on both sides of the aisle, and the inability of either side to work meaningfully together.

According to CNN contributor, John Avalon,
"This isn't a concealed campaign rally for either party. It's a counterprotest against the rising tide of conformity that causes hyperpartisans to demonize people with whom they disagree. It's the anti-demagogue Saturday on the mall; people taking to the streets and yelling, 'Be reasonable!'"

That said, I do hope that the excitement generated by this gathering will help propel the moderates and independents to the polls, and energize them to vote for the more reasonable candidate of their choice. Otherwise we might end up with a Congress full of Tea Party representatives.

Jon Stewart likes to point out that he specializes in "fake news" and is a comedian. But when you're voted the most trusted man in news, that means you have a responsibility to uphold. I think he is up to it and that this rally will be an amazing event. I look forward to seeing many fellow bloggers and Facebook friends there, as well as friends from my own town. And if you're not going to Washington, I encourage you to go to a satellite rally in your area if they are having one!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back from the North

We returned Monday night from ten days at the Cabin. In some ways it felt even longer, in a good way, because over the Labor Day weekend my dear friend and her daughter were visiting, then we had a couple of days alone, and then my father-in-law came up on Thursday and stayed until Monday. So it was as if we had three separate trips to the cabin, one after the other.

I was really glad my friend and her daughter could join us for the long weekend. My friend's daughter is very special to me, since I didn't have children of my own, and I've known her since she was a toddler; so I think of her as the daughter I never had. As Megan got older we joked that she takes after me, since we share some of the same tendencies and little quirks. So she calls me "MO" for "Mother Other." (We didn't want it to be Other Mother, as OM sounded too much like a yoga mantra). To keep her anonymity (she is almost 15 and I'm sure wouldn't want me to be blogging about her), in this post I will call her Megan, which is not her real name.

While they were there, the weather was very changeable. The first few days were basically nice, but windy with a mixture of clouds and sun.

It was cool enough in the evenings to sit out on our deck huddled around the fire in our brass chiminea, enjoying the flicker of the flames and telling stories. Megan had just gotten back from sleepaway camp, where she had spent four weeks over the summer, two in early July and two at the end of August. So she regaled us with all the camp songs she could remember, and the ghost stories that the counselors had told them. I chimed in with some of the ghost stories we used to tell around the campfire on our Girl Scout campouts, as well as singing a few of the songs I knew. I love camp ghost stories; they all share the common theme that whatever horrific thing happened, it happened RIGHT HERE at this camp, and the person telling the story KNOWS a person who was there at the time.

During the Labor Day weekend we spent our time together eating, drinking, reading books, walking in the woods, and journeying out for adventures.

One day we went all the way back to the Albany area to go to a Scottish Fair they were having in Altamont. It was one of those breezy, changeable days with clouds and sun, a perfect day for walking around the fairgrounds. Diva was welcome there, and spent the day meeting people she'd never met before, as we toured the various Scottish and Irish inspired jewelry, clothing and food booths. We stopped to watch the Highland Games for awhile and enjoyed the throwing of the caber.

We were surprised to come across a fish & chips booth that was run by Kearny, New Jersey's own Argyle Restaurant. Sure enough, there was one of the men we'd seen many a time when we attended the Robert Burns Suppers at the restaurant.

Of course we had to patronize a New Jersey business, so my friend opted for a plate of fish and chips, while DH and I chose fried haggis balls. Yes, that sounds really grotesque, but fried haggis balls are great. Take a bunch of meat, spices, and onions, wrap it in thick breadcrumbs and dough, and throw it in a deep fryer, and out comes crunchy, salty, tasty goodness. I'm sure my arteries have still not recovered. Haggis balls are probably almost as "good" for you as Scotch Eggs (fried dough around sausage with an egg in the center, which Argyle's had run out of before we got there, to our dismay).

We also stopped at the Beer Tent and had a pint while listening to a rollicking good band play Irish and Scottish music, followed by another group playing the pipes and drums. All in all, it was a great day for the Scottish - and anyone else who enjoys the food and music! Following are some pictures we took at the fair.

The entrance:

The band

The "feral haggis" display

My friend and her daughter holding Diva as she observes the native Scottish wildlife.

There were kilted men everywhere.

A view of some of the booths selling various goods and trinkets.

There was a lot of food to be had.

And lots of kilts to buy.

A young man clad as a primitive Scottish warrior of some kind, wielding his cell phone anachronistically.

Pipes and drums!

Diva meeting new friends at the fair.

While our friends were there, we also had a good dinner down in Whitehall, NY at our local Italian restaurant, The Roma Restaurant, which has the best lasagna I've found anywhere, even in New Jersey.

After our friends left, it seemed quiet, and we felt lazy and just relaxed for a couple of days. Unfortunately for DH's dad, the weather turned cooler and cloudier when he arrived, so we were stuck inside more than we'd hoped. However, we did have one beautiful day where we sat out on the deck to eat breakfast in the sun, enjoying pancakes and mimosas. (DH's dad brought up the champagne for that purpose).

On one of the cloudy days, we drove to Glens Falls and went to the Hyde Collection, a small exquisite museum contained within the Hyde family's historic home. It reminded us of a smaller version of the Frick or Isabella Stewart Gardner museums.

In addition to the permanent collection, there are newer wings added to the house that are used for changing exhibitions. We had just missed a collection of Andrew Wyeth's work on the day we were there. That was just as well, since the museum was remarkably empty during our visit; one of the guards told us there had been 700-800 people there over Labor Day weekend viewing the Wyeth exhibit.

The museum overlooks the Finch Paper Company factory, an industry that has been in Glens Falls since 1865 when it was founded as Finch Pruyn & Co. (It was sold in 2007 to a holding company funded by investors from another paper company, and is now known as Finch Paper LLC). The "Pruyn" part of the name is where the Hydes come in. Charlotte Hyde was originally Charlotte Pruyn, daughter of the papermill owner, and when she married Louis Hyde, he became a vice president in Finch Pruyn, thus helping to fund their hobby of art collecting.

The museum is still set up as a house, with each room containing priceless furniture, tapestries, and decorative pieces dating back as far as the 15th century. The artwork on the walls is equally exquisite. While the collection of paintings is not huge, it comprises gems from various eras and countries, from Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco and Van Dyck to Renoir, James Whistler, Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt and even Picasso. This museum is a must-see for any art lover. Below is one painting from the collection - a portrait of Jesus by Rembrandt (taken from the Hyde Collection website).
The meal we had in Whitehall on our way back from the museum was also well worth mentioning. For anyone not familiar with Whitehall, my excitement about this restaurant has to be explained.

Whitehall is a rather down-at-heel post-industrial town on the banks of the Champlain Canal. The town was formerly prosperous, due to the proximity of the canal, which once transported goods up and down its length, resulting in many businesses springing up along its shores, and a number of grand homes. Unfortunately, now that this type of transportation is done mainly by truck, time has kind of passed by Whitehall. There are many empty shops and shabby storefronts, and very few good restaurants. There is one over at the marina that we have not yet tried, and one on the other side of the canal that was good but nearly empty the time we were there. Roma and the House of Pizza are the ones we frequent most often.

So imagine our surprise when we drove down the main street by the canal and saw a lit up, busy new restaurant one evening! We looked it up on Google and sure enough, they had just opened in August and were obviously fulfilling an unmet need in the community, as there was a line waiting outside the door to get in. City Steaks & Seafood is hip, trendy, and reasonably priced, with great lobsters and steaks as well as other more ambitous dishes.

The building used to be a bank, and the outside has been restored and lit up tastefully with the name of the restaurant above the doorway. Inside, it has been totally remodeled, with exposed brick walls, wood floors, and a cozy and lively ambience. The service was good, the waiter was friendly, and the food excellent. Our steaks were done perfectly (mine "mid-rare" and DH's "medium rare" - they actually managed to make mine a little rarer than his!), and Dad's twin lobsters (only $19.95) were hefty specimens and perfectly cooked. DH and I also had lobster (we had the steak and lobster special) and were equally pleased with our lobsters. We are looking forward to our next trip to the Cabin so we can go there again very soon. (Below is a picture of the outside of the restaurant taken from their Facebook page, linked above.)

The next day we had to pack up and leave our cabin until our next visit, which won't be until October 8th, as we are heading up to Cape Cod for a week in between. Before then, however, I will be catching up on blogs and blogging!

Monday, September 06, 2010

In Honor of Labor Day

Billy Bragg wrote revised English lyrics to sing "The Internationale" with Pete Seeger at the Vancouver Folk Festival. Those lyrics are featured in the video above. Below are the English lyrics translated directly from the French, followed by the explanation of the origins of this socialist labor anthem. (I think I like Billy's English version better).

The Internationale

Arise ye workers from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We'll change henceforth the old tradition
And spurn the dust to win the prize

So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race
So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race

No more deluded by reaction
On tyrants only we'll make war
The soldiers too will take strike action
They'll break ranks and fight no more
And if those cannibals keep trying
To sacrifice us to their pride
They soon shall hear the bullets flying
We'll shoot the generals on our own side

No saviour from on high delivers
No faith have we in prince or peer
Our own right hand the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear
E'er the thieves will out with their booty
And give to all a happier lot
Each at the forge must do their duty
And we'll strike while the iron is hot.

"The Internationale was written to celebrate the Paris Commune of March-May 1871: the first time workers took state power into their own hands. They established in the Commune a form of government more democratic than ever seen before. Representatives were mandated on policy questions by their electors, they were recallable at any time and were paid wages that reflected those of their constituents. Marx's Civil War in France is a contemporary account of the history and significance of the Commune. The Commune was drowned in blood by the conservative French government in Versailles, cheered on by the ruling classes of the world. The words were written by poet Eugene Pottier one of Communards who was killed and the music by was written by his friend the composer Pierre Degeyter in 1888.

The song is still sung right around the world and Rob Elders in Holland has collected over 40 versions of The Internationale."

Source: Union Songs