The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

‘TWAS TWO WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas
And all through the land,
Retailers had sent forth
Their own marching band.

To drum up some business
And stir by their call
Each consumer to duty,
”Come down to the mall.”

We’ve got oodles of goodies
On sale – there’s no trick,
For surely you must have
The latest knack knick.

It was made in a land
Far away quite exotic,
But sadly about it
There’s nothing erotic.

But well made we can say
In a positive light.
It surely will last
Through at least Christmas night.

If not that then buy this
We’ve got more than enough,
Of goods with no value
For stockings to stuff.

Forget that old message,
Peace, love and joy.
The message of Christmas
That’s merely a ploy.
The true story’s about
Finding just the right toy.

“I’ve no money, alas.”
”Not a problem,” they say.
We’ve figured a way
For this junk you may pay.

Just say, “Charge it.”
We will, .
Have no fear, take no fright.
As the interest mounts day by day
And night by night.

So came Kia and Honda,
Chrysler, Nissan and Ford.
Their mission was clear
They were all of accord.

Beemers, Benzes were there
Some quite old and some new.
Intent on their purpose
They knew what to do.

To ransack and pillage
And leave the store bare.
To spend and spend more,
That was their sole care.

No great thought had gone into
Their buys made that day.
Nor how much at last,
The cost they would pay.

So they dashed away,
Dashed away,
Dashed away all.
And over the land
Came a dark eerie pall.

For the message of Christmas
Of peace and of joy
Is not just a gizmo
Or latest fad toy.

If we ask ourselves why
War and hatred exist,
Perhaps we should go back,
Examine our list.

No more cars, games or trinkets,
Just some kindness and soul.
Would go a long way
To make the world whole.

THE ATHEIST CASE FOR NIXMAS

Have you ever noticed that in the season prior to Christmas, people seem to be just a little bit nicer to each other than usual?  It’s something I’ve observed year after year – and I wistfully hope that the spirit of the season would continue throughout the entire year.  Sadly, it seems to evaporate as soon as the party noisemakers are blown and the last glass of champagne is consumed.

On a fundamental level, the story of Jesus’ birth should stir at least a twinge of emotion in all of us, whether or not you believe that He was born as Savior to redeem mankind from the sins with which we bind ourselves.  After all, here is a humble family who find refuge for the Nativity in a barn, surrounded by farm animals.  Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, nothing that would portend any great events yet to come.  Perhaps that, if nothing more, is the reason that many of us take the time to reflect on the beauty and mystery that is life – and causes us to be a little more generous, a bit more compassionate and just a smidgen more caring for our fellow men – at least for a few weeks.

Then, of course, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head can enjoy the camaraderie of sharing meals with family and friends.  The smells of the season, whether those come from the cookies baking in the oven or the incense of the Midnight Vigil and celebration of the Liturgy of the Nativity, appeal to our sense of smell and the decorations and light displays excite our vision.  At least that is the case for some of us.

Then there are those who profess atheism as their religion of choice, while denying that they have any religious convictions.  Not to engage in a debate on the subject which might embroil us in little more than a semantic conversation, let’s stipulate that an atheist, at least in America, is entitled to hold and express her convictions just as are Jews, Muslims, Baha’i’s, Buddhists, Christians or anyone of any other religious conviction.  If an atheist wants her position to be respected, it seems natural that they would respect the positions of others whose views might differ from their own.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the following billboards demonstrate:

 

 

 

American atheists generally direct their anti-religious message towards those of the their fellow citizens who are Christians, reserving their antipathy to members of other faiths with generalized derision in the belief in any God.  So why do those who believe that Jesus is Lord deserve their special attention?  This has puzzled me for many years so I thought that I would do a little research into the subject.

Samaritans Purse is a name with which you might have recently become familiar because of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  They have sent and paid for the cost of providing medical practitioners to the area to help those who were ravaged by the disease – all because of the contributions they received from those who support their work.  Perhaps our atheist friends believe that they have simply not done enough.

We are all familiar with the bell ringer volunteers that the Salvation Army puts in front of our stores during the Christmas season.  During the Great Depression, the Salvation Army was the only charitable organization that freely gave out food to those in need.  In 2013, the Salvation Army provided assistance to 30 million Americans with services that ranged from providing food to individuals and families in need, veterans services, half-way houses, prison ministries and services to the elderly and shut ins.  Although my atheist friends must think I’m crazy, I never hesitate to drop a few dollars in those red kettles every time I pass by one.

I grew up with “Make Room For Daddy” and adored Danny Thomas who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Thomas loved kids and showed this by establishing this incredible hospital which is totally dependent on donations for its continued works as it does not charge any family for any of the services it provides to the children who come there to be treated for their complex and costly medical conditions.  Although Danny Thomas was a Maronite Catholic, St. Jude does not restrict its practice of free treatment to Catholic children in need but accepts all children as patients irrespective or religion or race.

Catholic Charities is probably the largest and best funded of all Christian charitable services.  It provides assistance by operating shelters for the homeless and abused women, services to immigrants including teaching English, nutrition through the Meals on Wheels program, companion programs for the elderly, just to name some of their activities.  Catholic Charities provides assistance to over 40 million Americans per year.

Despite these obvious good works, the atheists in American society continue their campaign to turn Christmas into Nixmas and spend their money putting up billboards and filing lawsuits, demanding that symbols of Christianity be removed from public display.  Personally, I think the money could be better spent – but that’s just one person’s opinion.

As I try to keep an open mind, should any of my readers who holds an atheist view of life be kind enough to provide me with the name of an atheist organization that actually spends its donations helping children, providing housing for the homeless, feeds the hungry or offers free medical treatment for those in need, I will be happy to make a contribution to their good work.  But irrespective of whether I hear from anyone with that information, let me take a moment to wish all readers, religious or otherwise, a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and a heart filled with charity.

SANTA’S WORKSHOP

It was nearly quitting time a few days after Christmas when the door knocker at Santa’s Workshop began sounding.  As he was the nearest of the elves, Godwin walked to the front of the factory, hopped up on a little stool and then on to the stepladder by the door.  When he reached the top rung, he swung open the peep hole and saw the snow blowing fiercely outside.  He was used to that – but what surprised him were all the tanks and other vehicles and the large assembly of men and soldiers who were outside the door.

“May I help you,?” Godwin asked.

A man held up a badge which said, ‘Federal Bureaucracy of Interrogation.  Godwin had never seen one of these before.

“We’re here to see one S. Claus,” the man said.

“Just a minute, sir,” Godwin said.  And he closed the peep hole and quickly scrambled down the ladder.

When he got to the bottom he turned to face the workshop, put his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Santa.  We have visitors.”

Santa was in his office.  He had just finished setting up the “Naughty and Nice” book for the next season.  He grabbed the book and put it on the shelf space which had been reserved for it, next to all the other ones that he had inscribed in years past.  He pulled back from the desk, walked through the workshop and went to the front door.

When he opened the door the agent at the front of the entourage without greeting barged through the door and shoved his badge in Santa’s face.

“Special agent N. Quisitor.  Are you S. Claus?”

Santa, a little startled at the man’s rudeness replied, “I’m Santa Claus.  May I help you?”

“Please, gentlemen.  Come in from the cold.”  And the group waiting outside the door came into the warm workshop, stomping the snow from their boots.

“We’re here because there are some serious problems which have been raised by your operation.  In fact calling them problems is an understatement.  I have a list of violations, an extensive list for which you must answer.”

“Violations of what,?” Santa asked.

“Federal regulations,” Special Agent N. Quisitor replied.

“I can’t imagine anything that we’ve done anything wrong, “ Santa replied.  “What exactly are these violations?”

“Well, to start with, we have no record of your filing any tax returns.  That means that you are not only in violation of the IRC as a non-filer but you have not paid over the FICA tax you are withholding from your employees’ paychecks, nor have you paid your employer’s share of that tax.  And we have no record of your having paid any unemployment insurance for your employees.”

“Well, that’s easy to understand.  You see, sir we don’t pay the elves any salary.  They work for the simple joy of it and receive their room and board in return.  And we don’t make any profit at this business.  We do this simply for the joy of being able to provide presents for the children all around the world.”

A look of shock came over N. Quisitor’s face.  He responded, “Well, in addition to your failure to file the appropriate returns you are also in violation of the Federal Minimum Wage law.  In fact, you’re probably also in violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery.  Your elves are little more than indentured servants.”

“Indeed,” said Santa.  “Nothing could be further from the truth.  Feel free to ask any of the elves if they are held against their will.  They all share my joy at the work we do and if any of them wanted to leave he is free to do so at any time.  But if you speak with them, you’ll find they have all been with me for centuries and are happy to be here.”

“Then there’s the matter of your violating OSHA requirements that you provide ramp accessible access to your facilities for your vertically challenged and otherwise physically handicapped employees.  You will admit that your elf employees have a height issue, wouldn’t you?  I suspect that you haven’t properly retrofitted your lavatories to accommodate them either.”

N. Quisitor went on.  “Then there’s the issue that there are only male elves here in your workshop.  That is a clear violation of the EEOC requirement that employment be offered irrespective of gender.”

“Well, you see,” said Santa, “the lady elves are all at home taking care of their children.  They are busy rearing them, feeding them and they also are the teachers in Elf School.”

“And what is the curriculum in your so-called ‘Elf School’?   Do you use the Common Core which is now mandatory in all grammar schools?”

“No.  We teach the same thing that we have taught for centuries – toy making,  Since that’s what we do here, that’s what the young elves need to learn.”

“Well, that’s a violation of Article XIII of the ‘Universal Mandatory Education Act’.  You will be held accountable for this gross deficiency and violation of the law.”

“Now, on to the allegation that you have been depositing coal in certain of the stockings which people hang.  Is that true?”

“Well, sadly it is true.  You see, I would rather that no one get any coal but unfortunately … ,” which was as much as Santa could say before Special Agent N. Quisitor cut him off.

“Aha.  You realize that you are in violation of EPA regulation  27399 – Section 124 Paragraph 9.  “The use of coal or making trade in coal whether anthracite or bituminous is hereby prohibited as it is responsible for pollution and global warming.  Are you admitting that you are violating this regulation?  Furthermore, I noticed as we came in that there is a herd of reindeer outside your facility.  Are those yours?”

“Well of course they are.  There’s Prancer and Dancer…”  N. Quisitor interrupted the jolly old man and said, “You realize that reindeer in their droppings produce methane gas – a further violation of EPA regulations – and are one of the  contributing factors to the melting of the polar ice caps.  On these EPA charges alone you have a lot of explaining to do.  I hope you have a good lawyer.”

“Last but not least, it’s our understanding that you make your delivery of these toys by hitching the reindeer to your sleigh, flying around the world.  However, the FAA has no record of your ever having filed a flight plan with them.  Do you realize how you are endangering the public safety by conducting unauthorized flights, potentially compromising the well-ordered routes which licensed airlines fly?”

“Well, you know I’ve been doing this for decades – in fact long before there were airplanes.  And in all that time there’s never been an accident – not one.”

“Mr. Claus.  You’ve been very lucky – but you, sir are an accident waiting to happen.  Get your coat and come with us.”

And they took Santa Claus away – in handcuffs.  And in their hearts they knew they had done the right thing – making the world safer for bureaucracy.

I BROUGHT DOWN THE POST OFFICE

It was December, 1998 when it all started.

I needed to send out some papers using the Post Office’s Express Mail Service.  The last time I had used Express Mail, the cost for sending an envelope was $9.75.  I realized, as I reached in my pocket, that I only had a few dollars with me, though I did have three quarters, so on my way to the Post Office I withdrew $100 at my bank’s ATM.  Five new crisp $20 bills (the kind that make Andrew Jackson look as though he were part of a Monopoly set) were quickly dispensed.

I headed to the Dearborn Street Station Post Office in Chicago to complete my mission.

The Dearborn Street Station is immense.  On a previous visit – because I am a curious sort of person – I had walked around all the windows – which were conveniently numbered.  There were 54 windows – though as I walked I did a head count and only spotted five clerks behind them.   I thought that was strange.  Why would you have 54 windows available to do business and only five clerks to take care of the customers waiting for service?

My plan that day was to go to the vending machines which dispensed stamps.  I realized that the Christmas rush had already started so I could just zip in (no pun intended), buy my Express Mail stamp and then deposit my envelope in the receptacle designated, “Express Mail Only” which I had seen previously.

I walked into the Post Office and headed to the vending machines.  On each of them was typed the announcement, “These machines do not accept the new $20 bills.”

Thwarted.

I pondered, “One branch of the government prints the stuff and another one refuses to accept it.  What a system.”

My only option was to take my place in the queue that had formed.  During my time feeling irascible in front of the machines, two people had gotten in front of me in the line which was cordoned off with heavy red fibrous material.  I was now about to join a line with 15 people ahead of me.

I had no choice.  The envelope had time-sensitive material and it had to be mailed that day.  Glumly, I took my place.

Progress was painfully slow.  Every now and then the distant voice of a clerk saying, “Next” could be heard.  I kept counting the number of customers in front of me – hoping that at least a few had other things to do and would leave the line – thus advancing my position.  As it turned out, each of these people had the patience of Job and were stalwart in maintaining their place.

“Next.”

We were down to seven ahead of me, then six, then a tiny Oriental woman  whom I had overlooked surfaced and we were back to seven.  I was in that line for over an hour and had a severe need for a caffeine infusion – but there was no Starbucks in the Post Office.

Finally, I was at the head of the line and a woman was leaving the window directly to my right.  With a deep sigh I walked up to the window – but this lady returned.

“Do you sell Christmas stamps?”, she asked the clerk.

“Yes, ma’am”, he replied.

“How much are they?”

“$.32 each.”

“Do you have different ones?”

“Yes we do.”

“Could I see them?”

The clerk showed this lady the different stamps which were available.

She said to him, “How much would four cost?”  The clerk went to his register, punched in 4 x $.32 and said, “That would be $1.28.”

She said, “Does it matter if I buy the religious ones or the ones with the wreath?”

“No, ma’am.  They’re all the same price.”

“And six – how much would that cost?”

The clerk went back to his register to compute the prospective purchase.

“That would be $1.92.”

I was at the breaking point and was going to offer to buy her the stamps myself.  I am a very patient person – but there does come a moment.

Well, finally this lady decided that six was just exactly the right number of Christmas stamps that she needed.  She completed her purchase and left.

I was finally going to be able to conduct and conclude my business.

I hadn’t used Express Mail for some time and didn’t realize that there had been a price increase.  So I handed the clerk one of those new (non-acceptable) twenty dollar bills and three quarters.  The clerk entered my $20.75 remittance into his cash register and then looked at me.  He said, “It’s $10.85 to send this envelope.”  And he handed me back the money I had tendered.  I put my three quarters back in my pocket and left the twenty on the counter.

“OK”, I said.  “That’s fine.”

He did all the registration stuff that was necessary to make sure that the serial number of my Express Mail was in the system, took my envelope and placed it in an Express Mail bin and then proceeded to make change for the $20.75 he had returned to me handing me $9.90 in change.

I was dumbstruck.  But I thought, most victims get at least three times the amount of their loss in what we refer to as “punitive damages”.  And this experience went far beyond the realm of punishment.  So I took the money and left.

But I did feel guilty about it.

As I made my way to the bus to go home I saw a homeless man who was underdressed for what was already turning into a severe Chicago winter.  I gave him my change from the Post Office and one of the twenty dollar bills with which I had intended to pay for my transaction and I wished him a Merry Christmas.

And it’s kind of been all down hill for the Post Office since then.

I think our first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin would have approved.

‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE SHOPPING

It’s the time of year that people are more lighthearted and we make an effort to be a little nicer to others than usual.  Those are wonderful things.  Would that we could hold on to those feelings throughout the rest of the year.

I have neither a wish list nor do I have a shopping list – at least for anything that can be acquired at Saks Fifth Avenue or Crate & Barrel.  There really is nothing that I need and would prefer that, rather than spending money on me, my friends would donate to a worthy charity.  And since I gave up the practice of buying things in favor of making them I am pretty well set with those on my list.

But I am out shopping – for a new set of leaders to guide our ailing country into what I hope will be a more prosperous future.

The problem is that I’ve done several online searches and have yet to find a store that has politicians with ethics, morals, common sense and vision on display.  (When I was less specific – not requiring those four little qualifiers – I immediately had many pages show up on Google with a host of websites headquartered in Washington, D.C.).  Surely that is no surprise to you – or me.

I am an optimist.  I will continue my search.  I will get involved because not doing so is to abdicate personal responsibility.  I am one small person with a lone voice – but I believe that I can help change America for the better.

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