Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A good test - even in Arizona

Who vetoes bills?  
 a )  President pro tempore

b)  Speaker of the House
c)  President
d)  Vice President

What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution? 
a)  The inalienable rights
b)  The Declaration of Independence
c)  The Articles of Confederation
d)  The Bill of Rights

What ocean is on the east coast of the U.S? 
a)  Atlantic
b)  Indian
c)  Pacific
d)  Arctic

   Really?  The Arctic Ocean on the east coast of the U.S?  The first ten amendments called “the inalienable rights?” Is this a joke? 
   Not when we laugh at videos of people giving such questions.  Not when Jay Leno made a staple of these mistakes.
   It isn’t a joke when a shocking majority of high school graduates can’t differentiate between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Forget knowing that the first ten amendments to the U.S Constitution are the Bill of Rights.  It is downright scary that there are adults who barely know that Barrack Obama is the president and don’t know that that Joe Biden is the Vice President, let alone what the Vice President does and that he doesn’t veto bills.
   How can we function as a society and as a democracy, wherein we all supposedly do our part and have a say, with this ignorance? 
   This is why I think Arizona is right.  Yes, I’m saying that Arizona, which has attempted over and over to enact draconian laws against undocumented immigrants, doing everything possible to make it clear that these people aren’t welcome and to drive them away, is right. 
   While Arizona has gone way over the top in how it deals with those attempting to enter this country, I do agree with its new law concerning an aspect of the process for becoming a new citizens.  The new law requires the high school graduates pass the same test that new citizens are required to take.  The test will include questions like those above from the 100-question civics test given to immigrants, and students must correctly answer 60% or more of them in order to pass and graduate. 
   This requirement makes a lot of sense, given the astonishing ignorance evident among our citizens.  Plus, it has the nice bonus of beginning to take the sting out of the state’s rightfully ugly reputation, putting its citizens and new citizens on an equal footing. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The trouble with January

   I’m getting over my January funk. There are days when I still feel down for the count, like I got punched really hard, but on more and more days, I feel ready for the new year, ready to go on. I can now say "Happy New Year" and mean it - most of the time.  
   I’m sorry if this sounds dramatic and over the top.  It is just something that happens with me every year.  I end up feeling hung over when the new year begins.
   It’s not that I have gotten sloshed. I don’t get drunk on New Year’s Eve.  The fact that I don’t drink and am not a big partyer is likely a factor in why I’m not crazy about the New Year’s holiday.
   There’s a bigger issue and that is that I don’t like thinking about the whole 12 months ahead.  It makes me feel small and overwhelmed.  Although, again, drinking has never been a problem with me and I’ve never attended an AA meeting, I’m much better with one day at a time. 
   The holidays ending is also a part of my feeling run over in January.  This is more than being sad about having to take out the Christmas tree and having to go back to work and business as usual. I am like Charlie Brown always landing flat on his back after Lucy snatches the football from him. 
   In my case, the football is Christmas or, more precisely, “the holidays.” I don’t really like the holidays, but I really don’t like it when they are over.  Like Charlie Brown with the football, every year, I try to make the holidays the best, and every year, I end up exhausted and feeling like I’ve failed. The holidays are way over-hyped and, at least for me, are (or can) never be what they’re supposed to be.
   Yes, I realize this sounds horribly shallow and materialistic, but I find that I can’t help feeling this way.  And, of course, my friend John hit the nail on the head when I saw him shortly after New Year’s Day.  He said that New Year’s Eve/Day (and the holidays) makes people like me even lonelier without a partner or our own families.
   This year, I find myself asking why people take down all their lights. They go away so quickly – okay, party’s over, everyone out of the pool. Yes, it’s time for the Christmas carols to stop, and the lighted Santa and tree figures in the front yards look stupid after  New Year’s Day.  But why don’t people leave a string of lights on the roof or, better yet, in their trees for the winter? They look so lovely and warm in the cold, dark evenings. 
   One thing I do like about January is that it’s movie award season, with a nice bevy of good films to see. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Taking heart from Claremont and into the new year

   Here is my last Claremont Courier column for 2014 and hoping at least a bit of the holiday spirit and its light lasts into this new year. 

   “Were you at the C. folk festival for this???”
   This was in the subject line of an e-mail I got from my friend Drew in San Diego last month, except that there were no capital letters. Curious, I opened the message and found a YouTube link. That’s all. 
   That’s all that was needed. It turned out that the video was of Jackson Browne singing “These Days” on a tiny outdoor stage – if there was a stage – with a crowd cheering him. The accompanying text explained that it was taken at the 2008 Claremont Folk Music Festival – the “c. folk festival.”
   I had to tell Drew that I missed it, that I wished I had been there. I was kicking myself for missing this cool, intimate performance, but I also thought it is awesome that it was online for my friend in San Diego to find these years later. 
   This is yet another way that people find out that Claremont is an unique little town where some amazing, creative things happen. With things like this out there, they discover that Claremont is the kind of place where Jackson Browne comes to play in a park. 
   No wonder that, more often than not, when I tell people that I live in Claremont, they light up. 
   I certainly lit up a couple months ago when I went to see Tom Fruend play at the Folk Music Center.  Not only does the Folk Music Center put on the Claremont Folk Festival every year, it has these wonderful shows in the store, which are like seeing a performance in someone’s living room. During this evening in October, Mr. Fruend made frequent comments about when he stayed in Claremont and got much encouragement and support from Charles and Dorothy Chase, who owned and ran the Folk Music Center for years. 
   As wonderful as all this was, it was all the more special when, in a surprise move, Ben Harper, the grandson of the Chases who is a big-time singer and musician seen on television from time to time and known to fill up Bridges Auditorium, came out and joined Mr. Fruend on a few songs at the end of the show.  Imagine being in a living room with Ben Harper sitting there singing and playing. 
   Yes, Claremont is that kind of place. It is a blessing, a light shining out in this season of lights, and more and more people are seeing it.   
·         *
   “You lost your wallet last year.”
   That’s right. I did. When I got home from buying a Christmas tree last year, I realized I didn’t have my wallet and then remembered not putting it in the bag on the side of my wheelchair after paying for the tree. My friend didn’t find it in the van or on the front walk, and I was desperate. Not only was I missing some cash, I didn’t want to deal with replacing all those cards over the holidays. 
   I had my friend go back to the tree lot – the Firemen’s Lot on Foothill in Upland – on the off chance that my wallet was there. It was.  My holidays would be happy. 
   I have been going to the Firemen’s Lot for years. They have good trees, reasonably priced, and they also know me. 
  Yes, there are places to get a Christmas tree in Claremont, including a new one at Indian Hill and Arrow Highway, close to my house, but I still go to the Firemen’s Lot, as much as I try to “shop Claremont.” I like it that they know me there.  I like it they held my wallet for me last year, and I like it that the guy there remembered this in greeting me when I went there a few weeks ago. 
   This is what community is about.  It is another light shining in this dark, cold time when we need all the light that we can get. 
·          *
   “Sadly, the Ferguson, Missouri events have reached even into Claremont.” 
   No doubt there are others who, as expressed by a letter writer in these pages a couple weeks ago, wished there hadn’t been a protest in front of City Hall, with mainly students from the colleges, over the decision of a grand jury not to indict a white policeman in the fatal shooting of an unarmed, young, black man near St. Louis. It is all too easy and natural to think that a nice, small town like Claremont shouldn’t have anything to do with such ugly incidents so far away, even in Los Angeles or Pomona. We’d like to think that such goings on
are practically in another world. 
   As evidenced in the letter, which posited that the young man who was killed and the protesters were lawless, having no respect for the rules of an ordered society, it is clear that there are differing opinions on the incident and its aftermath. But I think all agree that what happened was tragic and a sign that, with statistics like a black man being something like twenty times more likely to be killed by police officers than a white man, the way our society is ordered is broken. 
   It is hard to look at this broken order, hard to look at the meanness and violence on the streets and in our society. We see it not only in this and other racially charged fatal encounters with police but also in the recent U.S Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture carried out by the CIA, whether or not these brutal interrogation techniques were productive. 
   This isn’t nice stuff, to say the least. It most certainly isn’t cheery holiday stuff. A photograph in the Los Angeles Times of a crowd rioting, causing mayhem and destruction one night under a merrily lit Happy Holidays banner doesn’t make sense. 
   But it fits. Just as Christmas and Hanukah began in times of violence and injustice, the protests we see are cries for hope and peace in a weary, desperate society.  The looting and burning at some of these protests is most unfortunate and not to be condoned – and it is good to see that more of the recent protests have been relatively peaceful - but they show how much passion and desperation is in this outcry. 
   Yes, it would be nice if Claremont had nothing to do with all these ugly things and if we could forget that a black man was killed by a police officer here not so many years ago.  It would be so easy to live in our nice, little world here. But doing nothing would make all those other places still darker.  Like the students here protesting  peacefully, and also like the Claremonters who are providing shelter and food right here in our community for the homeless, we need to share the light that we in this community.