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» 2012 » November

Monthly ArchiveNovember 2012

Commentary 30 Nov 2012 03:41 pm

Paint it black

Next year, let’s just call it Black November and be finished with it.

I mean, really, retailers started Christmas pitches in September this year, and Santa, elves and tinsel have shared shelf space with jack o’lanterns, American flags and Hallmark-style pictures glorifying the genocide of Native Americans ever since, depending on whatever “minor” holiday was in vogue while the Christmas carnival of capitalism (to borrow a headline from the New York Times) rolled on.

It would be more honest to forget other holidays altogether and celebrate Christmas all year long — Fourth of Christmas July and Valentine’s Christmas and Memorial XMas and the 12 Labor Days of Christmas and so on, ad nauseum.

This year, retailers steamrolled right over Thanksgiving to get to Black Friday, our new secular celebration, with some stores opening Thanksgiving morning and then closing, only to open later on Thanksgiving night and then closing so they could open again before the chickens — but after the turkeys — the next day.

And, hey, I’m just as guilty as the next guy. My wife and I were out Thanksgiving night, when I thought that maybe only a few dozen other stalwart, nigh-near heretical souls would eschew the hypnotic glow of televised football to sully the memory of the feast day by shopping. Surprisingly, we were two of thousands who did the same thing.

There we were, outside the local Big Box in a line that stretched sinuously down the sidewalk, across an access drive and into the strip mall next door. My wife, naively thinking that management would let valued customers wait inside the building before taking our money, didn’t bring a coat, so I gallantly offered mine, making a cacophony of chattering teeth the soundtrack for the 50-minute wait.

Once we were granted access to the showroom by off-duty police officers who acted as though they’d rather be raiding a neighborhood crack house instead of maintaining law and order among value-hungry hordes, we found ourselves waiting in still another line.

Make that two lines. My wife went in one direction for the cheap blu-ray player, while I took up residence near the instant potatoes, behind 200 or so other people waiting for the cheap TVs.

That’s where I met Flatulence Man, who must have devoured some bad Butterball earlier in the day based on how he used a sales circular to fan his deadly fumes throughout the aisle.

“Better stay back,” he warned, after a particularly loud blast. “I’m blowin’ ‘em out.”

Meanwhile, his partner, Motorized Scooter Woman, zipped in and out of line to pick up more bargains. She returned once with barely enough room to stay on the scooter. FM dutifully stacked it all in his cart.

Somewhere in the second hour of waiting, FM and MSW began squabbling about his selfishness. (Other customers were handing him items they didn’t want — a GPS unit and some walkie-talkie-looking things among them. I got into the spirit myself and gave him a pair of portable DVD players just to see if he’d take them. He did.)

As the line began to move, a guilt-stricken FM divested himself of merchandise like a stripper removing unwanted clothes. He handed some items to unsuspecting store clerks and dumped others on the floor and shelves. Nothing appeased Scooter Woman, though, who angrily revved off to parts unknown, leaving FM one person short for the two TVs he wanted.

Somewhere in there — maybe between the stale turkey farts and the malfunctioning scanner in Checkout Lane 20 that made checkout last another hour — my Christmas spirit died. Not that I had much to begin with.

I’m sure a lesson can be found about conspicuous consumption, how we Americans — many of us, anyhow — allow ourselves to be treated like cows in a slaughter chute to save a few bucks on junk we don’t really need or want just because Big Business has successfully preached the Gospel of Greed and converted us to the Church of Consumer Science — can I get an amen? — or how we should protect the sanctity of Thanksgiving and refuse to shop on that day.

But, frankly, I’m too tired from all that line-waiting and box-carting and spending to be too profound.

All I can say is that once I was back in the parking lot, I looked up to heaven, shook my fist at the glowing neon of the Big Box sign and swore, “Never again.”

Until next year.

@cschillig on Twitter

Commentary 21 Nov 2012 07:35 pm

Keeping abreast of baby-doll trends

I’ll admit it — my first thought when I read about Breast Milk Baby was “creepy.”

My second thought? That I’m behind the times.

The doll is this holiday season’s tempest in a toy-store teapot, even though it isn’t in too many toy stores, if any. When you hold Breast Milk Baby close to fake flower petals on a special apron, it makes sucking noises like a real, breastfeeding baby. Children who wear the apron can pretend to be mothers who have elected to provide nutrients the natural way.

Breast Milk Baby is no different materially than dolls that are spoon fed (remember the concern over whether it was sanitary to shovel mushy, fake baby food into a doll where it could fester for months?) or dolls that simulate bowel and bladder functions.

What sets Breast Milk Baby apart is that it involves the mammary glands, which are allowed to be shown on television, movie screens, billboards and beaches across America as indicators of sex appeal, but cannot be shown — even modestly — in restaurants, airports, shopping malls or any other public area for the purpose which millennia of evolution intended: to feed hungry babies.

Some pundits, apparently including Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, find the doll offensive, perhaps believing that little girls — and, dare I suggest it? maybe even little boys — will be hypersexualized, one more (tiny) step toward a future where they will become teenage trollops and college bra-burners.

But there should be nothing “sexy” about breastfeeding, a natural part of parenting, the wonderful avocation that provides benefits such as sitting up all night with a feverish child and holding her hair back while she upchucks into a bucket or commode.

(If the toy industry were intent on providing simulated parenting at every level, it would create dolls like Heartbreak Hester, who launches into histrionics every time a boy breaks up with her or a classmate fails to invite her to a birthday party; Lead-foot Lettitia, primed and ready for her inaugural driving lesson; and Tuition Tommy, who needs upwards of $35,000 a year for college. But I digress.)

No, parents have far less to worry about from Breast Milk Baby than from the unrealistic body images that little girls develop from playing with Barbie, whose measurements if she were a real woman would be, in the words of the Huffington Post, “mildly terrifying.”

(A photo available by Googling “Barbie vs. a Real Girl” shows just how ridiculous the doll’s proportions are when applied to a real woman. Worth checking out — and SFW.)

And yet, if anybody in my family were of an age to appreciate Breast Milk Baby, and even if one were available at a Black Friday sale later this week, I still wouldn’t buy it and still would consider it creepy.

To my shame, that says less about the doll than it does about me.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Nov. 21, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 15 Nov 2012 08:45 pm

Farewell to Meat Tour 2012 — Where’s the Concert T-shirt?

This Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for turkey, ham, beef, poultry and fish.

Beginning in 2013, I’m going to try my hand — and mouth and stomach — at a vegetarian lifestyle, so this holiday season is my farewell tour of the wonderful world of meat.

Goodbye to Red Robin juicy gourmet burgers served with refreshing glasses of freckled lemonade. Adios to Arby’s chicken sandwiches with the lettuce that used to be better when it was shredded. Hasta la vista to succulent sirloin steaks barbecued to perfection in my own backyard, even when the thermometer creeps below zero and I have to stop mid-grill to buy more propane.

Farewell to Mom’s delicious lasagna with the ground beef layered between tender rows of noodles, served with a healthy side dish of guilt because I don’t visit more often. Sayonara to the BK Big Fish, a diet-busting burst of breaded goodness that I devour in the restaurant’s parking lot like an addict with his last dime bag.

This weekend, I practically sobbed my way through a hamburger at Mulligan’s Pub, even as I perused the menu for the kind of tofu-derived substitutes that will be my lot in life should this resolution pass beyond the road-to-hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions phase and become reality.

More than a year ago, my wife totally removed beef from her diet, replacing it in recipes with ground turkey. I went along for the ride because I wanted to support her healthier lifestyle and because, in most dishes, you can’t tell the difference between beef and turkey, anyway.

(One notable exception is sloppy Joes, which taste like napalm in a bun when made with ground turkey.)

She decided that the first of the year would signal the swan song for all meat in her diet. I’d been flirting with the idea, too, spurred on by several students who have already made the transition — some, years ago — and who wrote persuasively about it.

My concern is less for my own health, which is adequate, than for the welfare of animals and the good of the planet, not necessarily in that order.

Many animals raised under modern methods of production live in appalling conditions — shot full of growth hormones, confined in small cages, slaughtered en masse. Even if only a fraction of the more alarmist literature from animal rights organizations is true, it’s enough to give me pause.

From an environmental standpoint, meat doesn’t make much sense. According to the September issue of National Geographic, agriculture is responsible for 92 percent of humanity’s water footprint, with beef requiring 10.8 quarts of water for every kilocalorie, compared to only half a quart of water for roots and cereals and 1.4 quarts for vegetables. Pork, eggs and chicken production aren’t quite the water hogs that beef is, but they’re still higher than any non-animal foodstuffs.

According to the EPA, a single dairy cow drops 120 pounds of wet manure daily, which equals the waste produced by 20-40 people. (That’s a large range — either the EPA doesn’t estimate well or people’s poo production fluctuates wildly.) When managed properly, animal manure can produce electricity and ethanol, but when it’s not, it pollutes our water supply.

If I were really concerned about this — and I am concerned, but not really concerned — I would drop the meat right now, today. But as I’ve said, I need to wean myself off my carnivore lifestyle, especially hamburgers, the world’s most perfect food.

So for the next five weeks, I’m saying goodbye, even as I download vegetarian apps for my phone and brush off the concerns of well-meaning friends and family members who think I’ve finally gone off the deep end because I’m jumping, not falling, off the meat wagon.

Like other more highly publicized farewell tours — think the Eagles and the Who — I may yet return to the cow and chicken kingdom. If not, then in the words of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” it’ll be “No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey a la king! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!” for me.

Meanwhile, this Thanksgiving, as I join with others to reflect upon and celebrate all the reasons I have to be grateful, I also plan to eat myself into a tryptophan-induced coma, where all my meat dreams will be bittersweet.

Originally published in The Review on Nov. 15, 2012.

Commentary 09 Nov 2012 12:23 am

Can we all agree on this?

Today’s column was going to be a letter from the Me of the Immediate Past (Sunday, to be exact) to the You of Today.

In it, I said that if I had a time machine, I would jump ahead a few days to see who won the presidential election. Then I theorized that it wouldn’t matter, because you would know as little today as I did on Sunday.

My prediction was based on all the talk of Ohio as a linchpin state, that if the election were tight, it could come down to counting of absentee ballots, which voters had up to 10 days to return by mail to their boards of elections. If the race were a squeaker, we might not have known who would sit in the national driver’s seat until sometime next week. If lawsuits were filed — which, on Sunday, seemed a distinct possibility — we might not know even then.

That’s not the column you’re reading today, although pieces of it have been cannibalized and reformatted here, for two reasons.

First, my scenario was wrong, and who likes to be wrong? The vote in Ohio was close, but Barack Obama won enough electoral votes elsewhere that even if recounts, absentee and provisional balloting give the Buckeye State to Romney, it won’t matter.

Secondly, as I looked over the earlier column, I saw that I’d done a lot of crowing about my candidate, which was bad sportsmanship, like the fan who isn’t content when his team wins, but who must rub others’ faces in it the next day.

We’ve had more than enough bad gamesmanship the last few months, especially in battleground Ohio, where both Obama and Mitt Romney practically took up residence while pummelling one another on various issues.

Historian David McCullough said on “60 Minutes” this week that, in terms of vitriol, the campaign just passed is nothing compared to those of earlier generations, which put the mudslinging of 2012 to shame. I’ll take his word on that, but this year’s run was nasty enough, both from the candidates themselves and from the various PACs and their deep-pocketed donors.

The bald truth is this: Although I voted for Obama and am pleased that he won, my vote was less in support of him than it was against Romney, who quite frankly scared me. I have serious concerns about the president’s plans and policies, but I nevertheless cast my vote for the force that could be reasoned with, not the force to be reckoned with (sentence-ending prepositions aside).

I put Romney in the same category as Gov. John Kasich, whose blunt demeanor and outright arrogance during his early days in office were appalling. But, really, once voters defanged the viper that was Kasich’s war against public employees, he’s settled down and governed competently, if not spectacularly. If Romney won the election, he likely would have done the same, despite my reservations.

I recognize that many Americans woke up Wednesday with that same sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs because Romney had lost that I would have felt if he had won. Nobody likes to feel that way.

In his victory speech early Wednesday, President Obama expressed his desire to sit down with Romney in the coming days and discuss the economy. I hope that meeting is more than merely symbolic. Romney has experience with job creation and worthwhile ideas about growing the economy, and the country and the president need all the help they can get in those regards.

It would be wonderful if that meeting signaled the end of partisanship and the beginning of a more cooperative relationship between the two parties, although it probably won’t. That’s not to say the GOP should merely roll over and concede Obama’s every point — not that that’s ever been a danger — but merely that both “sides” (a casually-used word that shows how divided we are along party lines) can work toward compromise and do some good for America.

With that said, I also believe that rank-and-file Americans have to become more tolerant of opposing viewpoints. All this talk of people picking up stakes and moving to Canada if their candidate lost, or telling other people to do the same because they offer an opposing opinion, runs counter to the spirit on which this country was founded.

As Americans, we should speak our minds and make our opinions known. It’s not only a right, it’s an obligation. I may not like what you have to say — and you may not like what I have to say — but we’re both still Americans — not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

I hope the next four years keep the nation on the road of greatness. Notice I didn’t say the road “to” greatness, because we’ve never, even in our worst moments, been less than great.

I hope I’m not wrong when I say this is one issue on which we could all agree.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Nov. 8, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 01 Nov 2012 10:20 pm

Faith in public service

Here’s something unexpected: I’m defending Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.

During a debate last week, Mourdock shared his view on abortion. He said, “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

The outcry was instantaneous.

But, really, as a card-carrying member of an evangelical Christian denomination, what else could he believe? He is saying “what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes: life begins at conception,” as Newt Gingrich told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday morning.

Unknowingly, however, Mourdock also stumbled into a problematic area of faith, one that believers might call a “mystery” (in the most positive sense) and one that nonbelievers might call a breach of logic.

It is this — and I’m no theologian, so work with me: If God is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), as most Christians believe that He — or She or It, depending on your preference — is, then He already knows not only everything that ever was, but also everything that ever will be.

Hence, He already knows who will be born, who will die, who will win the lottery and who will have car troubles on the way to and from work. He already knows which villages will be decimated by illness and which candidates will win Tuesday’s election.

Yet believers will pray to Him in hopes that he will intercede on their behalf. But if He is omniscient, He already knows how things turn out. He can’t be surprised by a surge of prayer and still be all-knowing, and He can’t change His mind for the same reason. Prayer, then, is problematic as a way to influence God, since He can’t switch horses in midstream.

But then what of free will, the doctrine that states God gives us the ability to make our own choices? It doesn’t work either, at least in the case of conception, if you believe — as Mourdock obviously does — that all life is preordained.

Mourdock is saying the hypothetical child of rape was meant to be born, at that time and to that mother, fathered by a man who forced his way upon another woman. The child could not have been born to another woman, or even to the same woman by another father, because it takes that particular seed and that particular egg to make that particular child, the one who is preordained.

You can’t have it both ways, as Mourdock later tried when he noted that he doesn’t believe rape itself is preordained, only the life that may come of it.

It doesn’t work: God can’t be given a free-will pass on the rape, but still get credit for the birth. He has to be responsible for both. To say He isn’t is to say that God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent.

Yet I’m defending Mourdock both for his honesty and for not apologizing if his statements are a true reflection of his worldview. He is not pretending that he can put his faith on a shelf when he becomes a public servant, as John F. Kennedy claimed he could do when Americans were concerned that the first Roman Catholic president would take orders from the Vatican.

If Kennedy were a true, devout Catholic, he would have to cede authority to Rome. To do otherwise would make him no Catholic. People’s faiths do matter. And if they don’t — if they are spouting only what they think a majority of voters want to hear, if their desire to be elected allows them to trump their own consciences — well, then that matters, too.

In this case, Mourdock’s statements, which really don’t matter to people outside Indiana, give us a perfect opportunity to note Mitt Romney’s reaction — or lack thereof. Romney has not made a formal statement, has not withdrawn his support, has not asked Mourdock to stop airing a political ad of endorsement.

And, really, why should he? Mormonism is not so different from other religions that it doesn’t support the tenets of omniscience and omnipotence, so it’s likely that Romney’s beliefs are similar to Mourdock’s, that what happens is what is meant to happen — in the case of rape as in everything else.

I’d pray that voters recognize how scary that is, if I thought it would do any good.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Nov. 1, 2012, in The Alliance Review.