Holiday Independence

Holiday Independence

Today is one of America’s most important holidays of the year, Independence Day. It comes on an odd day-of-the-week, because most Americans will be docked a day’s pay if they also took off Monday. So it’s likely that long distance celebrations with relatives — a trademark of the 4th of July — might occur less this year.

America’s Independence Day holiday has lost much of its context over the last 220 years. Unlike many African countries, for example, there is no living memory of independence, just what the books tell us.

Yet it remains one of the most universally celebrated holidays on the calendar. It’s summer in America, perfect for parades, games and … baseball, the national sport! And from my earliest memories as a a child what I continue to associate the holiday with most are fireworks!

More Holiday Than Ever

More Holiday Than Ever

MLKDay14Today is one of the most important benchmarks in the American calendar, the Martin Luther King federal holiday. It’s even more important than ever because of the current controversy between Trump and the civil rights icon, John Lewis.

John Lewis is the undisputed grandpa of civil rights. Last week he said that he didn’t consider Trump a legitimate president.

Recently Congress and then separately, the Democratic caucus in Congress received special classified briefings we are not privy to. Many are giving Lewis the benefit of the doubt that his statement reflects that.

But on the surface it looks like Lewis is playing the same low ball game that Trump plays, and Trump reacted to Lewis with a series of juvenille tweets and ultimately said he would cancel his planned appearance today at the new African American Museum in Washington, because of what Lewis said.

It’s understandable that minorities and their heroes like Lewis take special offense of Trump, but what all of us in opposition should realize is that it is not Trump-the Man who should give us concern. It’s Trump-the Movement. Had yellow-haired, foul-speaking Trump not run for president, someone else equally radical would have. And would have won.

Today we celebrate everything that Trump and the alt-right controlled Congress wish to undo. A year ago that seemed impossible. But a strange year has passed and nothing, any longer, seems impossible.

Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. (Canada celebrates it earlier.) Thanksgiving is one of Canada and the U.S.’ major holiday celebrations, characterized by copious amounts of food featuring seasonal recipes and lots of sweets. The traditional meat served at the feast is turkey.

The two-day holiday originates with the first permanent settlers to the New World, people who called themselves pilgrims fleeing England’s restrictive laws on religion and who arrived the northeast coast of America in between 1620 and 1621.

They faired poorly in the beginning until two local native Americans, Wampanoags of the Algonkian-speaking clans, both of whom spoke English (because one of them had previously traveled to England in 1605) befriended the settlers. The “Indians” taught the pilgrims how to farm and build homesteads, and the summer planting season was so successful that the pilgrims invited the Indians to a “Thanksgiving” harvest dinner in November, 1621.

Click here for much more information about the history and meaning of Thanksgiving by a native American school teacher, who dispels not only the myths about the “primitiveness” of native Americans, but also about the pilgrims’ history and beliefs.

Veteran’s Day

Veteran’s Day

VeteransDAyToday is controversial: a very revered American holiday that many of us are reluctant to celebrate because we are so ashamed of America’s wars. Yet we can’t ignore the life stories of those who are conflated with them.

During my life time, which began just after World War II, America has fought many wars and not a single one was justified. I hoped Obama would end some of them, but instead he started new ones. Today, it’s terrifying. A conservative government will bring on more war, and our Commander-in-Chief has implied he will use nukes.

Read more

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Weekend

RaisedFist1

Today starts the “Labor Day” weekend holiday in the United States. America’s May Day is officially celebrated Monday.

Labor Day marks the end of summer when friends and family gather for the last summer barbecue. It vies with Christmas and New Years Day to be the least worked day in the U.S.

Vacations end, schools reopen, the fall sports season begins (especially American football), the culture season with operas and symphonies begin in the great cities, and everyone prepares to return to serious, long work weeks.

If ever a holiday marked the turning of a season, it’s Labor Day. Read more

Holiday Weekend

Holiday Weekend

Today begins one of America’s most important holidays of the year, Independence Day! Technically July 4th, Monday, most Americans have extended the weekend to begin today. The 4-day holiday will see more Americans “on the road,” driving pretty long distances to celebrate with relatives and friends or just taking a short vacation than ever before, mostly because of very low petrol prices.

America’s Independence Day holiday has lost much of its context over the last 220 years. Unlike many African countries, for example, there is no living memory of independence, just what the books tell us.

Yet it remains one of the most universally celebrated holidays on the calendar. It’s summer in America, perfect for parades, games and … baseball, the national sport! And from my earliest memories as a a child what I continue to associate the holiday with most are fireworks!

Memorial Day 2016

Memorial Day 2016

memorialweekendToday is the Memorial Day holiday in the United States.

The holiday is intended to honor the memories of U.S. soldiers who have died in action. It’s similar to the Remembrance Days celebrated in many parts of Africa, and like in South Africa created primarily to honor the freedom fighters for independence.

But America’s Memorial Day has grown to honor all dead soldiers, not just those who fought in the 18th century revolution. In fact it wasn’t started until after the Civil War when it was first called “Decoration Day,” following a petition by recently freed slaves (most who came from Africa) to honor the Union soldiers who had freed them.

After World War I it was changed to “Memorial Day” and extended as an honor to all soldiers in all conflicts.

As a young boy it was a big red-white-and-blue festival. We decorated our little red wagons and bikes, just as we would hardly a month later for the July 4th Independence Day Holiday.

Since then my own personal regards for Memorial Day has diminished. The numerous wars my country began during my life time have mostly been unfair and unjust. The end of conscription, which happened when I was in university, changed the military so radically that it is no longer a people’s army; it no longer represents society as a whole.

Today the military is composed either of young men who can’t get any other kind of job, or who need the benefits once their service is finished, or avowed militarists.

I do stop during the day and think of my relatives in the Great Wars. I think of the way the country ultimately came together to fight world tyranny. But in my life time, there is little in America’s wars to be proud of. They are mostly memories I wish we didn’t have.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

MLKDay14Today is one of the most important benchmarks in the American calendar, the Martin Luther King federal holiday.

Yet in America in recent years King’s dreams have retreated into the fog of self-righteousness. His detractors, America’s Right, has rolled back many of the voting freedoms he had fought for a half century ago, assisted by a conservative if vindictive Supreme Court.

King’s supporters were certainly re-energized this past year by a number of horrible police actions against innocent blacks. Yet so far in all but one case, the police who were implicated in the shootings have been exonerated, either discharged by juries or never prosecuted.

Dr. King is ascribed in history — like Ghandi – as a champion of non-violence. But what I most remember of King’s turbulent last days was unbelievable violence. My most vivid memory is as a very young journalist penned under a burning El Stop in downtown Chicago while the city raged in reaction to King’s assassination.

I remember gun fire was a regular sound in my low-rent apartment in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 1968. Or the unending sirens and tear gas around my apartment in Berkeley that fall.

Those days ended in victory for my side. The Vietnam War came to an end. Civil Rights and Voting Rights leaped forward. There is much violence in America, today, but it seems to occur without a cause.

Gun violence in America is horrific, today. The number of guns bought by Americans is at an unbelievable number today: there are now more guns than people.

This is not what Dr. King had in mind. So today we celebrate his 87th birthday, wishing sorely that he were still here to explain.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. (Canada celebrates it earlier.) Thanksgiving is one of Canada and the U.S.’ major holiday celebrations, characterized by copious amounts of food featuring seasonal recipes and lots of sweets. The traditional meat served at the feast is turkey.

The two-day holiday originates with the first permanent settlers to the New World, people who called themselves pilgrims fleeing England’s restrictive laws on religion and who arrived the northeast coast of America in between 1620 and 1621.

They faired poorly in the beginning until two local native Americans, Wampanoags of the Algonkian-speaking clans, both of whom spoke English (because one of them had previously traveled to England in 1605) befriended the settlers. The “Indians” taught the pilgrims how to farm and build homesteads, and the summer planting season was so successful that the pilgrims invited the Indians to a “Thanksgiving” harvest dinner in November, 1621.

Click here for much more information about the history and meaning of Thanksgiving by a native American school teacher, who dispels not only the myths about the “primitiveness” of native Americans, but also about the pilgrims’ history and beliefs.

Columbus or Indigenous Peoples Day

Columbus or Indigenous Peoples Day

Today is the Columbus Day federal holiday in the United States.

“Columbus Day” puzzles many African readers of this blog. After all, Columbus didn’t land in America but in the West Indies. So it seems a fickle holiday in a country that’s known to not have many.

Many Americans are as puzzled as Africans and recently a movement among larger American cities is growing that would change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenuous Peoples Day.”

The idea began in Berkeley, California, where it has been the law since 1992. But there it sat unmoving anyone until just a few years ago when Sacramento, then Minneapolis and then the largest city so far, Seattle, also adopted the new orientation.

Today, regardless of what they day is called where an American lives, almost all government services are suspended, schools are closed, all banks in all states must be closed, and there’s no mail delivery. The holiday was proclaimed in 1937 on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus into the Americas. So this year, with so much of the federal government also closed, America is really chilling out.

Many large cities, including New York, have huge parades. Over the years the celebration has taken on an ethnic tone, celebrating Italian heritage.

Many of us take short road trips to country house BnB’s and tiny towns further north to enjoy the fall colors, because the holiday traditionally marks the end of summer and warm fall, and the start of dreary fall and frigid winter.

Labor Day

Labor Day

Today is “Labor Day” in the United States. America’s May Day.

Foreigners are understandably surprised to learn that our very expensive political campaigns for elections in November, 2016, have already begun. So today politicians are joining the tens of thousands of “Labor Day” parades organized by towns big and small across the country.

I live in far northwestern Illinois right on the border with Iowa, the state that holds the “first primary” for party elections next March, and all the important politicians are marching in parades there today.

But this year we normal folks are really fed up with the politicians. In one large Iowa city near where I live the city organizers have told the politicians that they have to march at the end of the parade line!

Politicians do not like to be at the end of anything.

Labor Day marks the end of summer when friends and family gather for the last summer barbecue. It vies with Christmas and New Years Day to be the least worked day in the U.S.

Vacations end, schools reopen, the fall sports season begins (especially American football), the culture season with operas and symphonies begin in the great cities, and everyone piles back to work.

Many species of birds are flying through and many of our own species are beginning to fly south. The wild turkey are eating madly to beef up for winter. Deer fawn are grown and losing their spots. Our pet dogs are shedding handfuls of hair all over the place.

Where I live in the Driftless Area near the Mississippi River in the Upper Midwest, the great green forests are beginning to change color. Soon there will be piles of yellow and red leaves where now there are only patches. The sumac are a deep red, elm turn yellow, maple become blood red and oak a warm, deep orange.

Where I live this many sportsmen are getting ready for the opening of the hunting seasons. Shots can be heard along the great Mississippi River as the duck season opens first as tens of thousands of the migrating ducks head south.

Days shorten. Right now we have 13 hours of sunlight, but that’s shrinking by nearly 3 minutes a day until December 21 when we’ll have less than 9 hours.

Before we know it the forests will have shed all their leaves and the crackly ground beneath them will be covered in snow.

If ever a holiday marked a turning of the seasons, it’s Labor Day.

A Simple Named Holiday

A Simple Named Holiday

MemorialDayIt’s Memorial Day in America, similar to the Remembrance Days celebrated in many parts of Africa.

America’s holiday is intended to honor the memories of U.S. soldiers who have fought our wars. Similarly, African Remembrance Days are usually in homage to freedom fighters for independence.

America’s Memorial Day honors all dead soldiers, so in that regard our own revolutionary fighters are to be honored, too. But it began as “Decoration Day” right after the Civil War, following a petition by recently freed slaves to honor the Union soldiers who had freed them.

After World War I, it was changed to “Memorial Day” and extended as an honor to all soldiers in all conflicts.

As a young boy it was a big red-white-and-blue festival. We decorated our little red wagons and bikes, just as we would hardly a month later for July 4th. And in those days we were remembering mostly the two Great Wars: defensive wars.

Since then my own personal regard for Memorial Day has diminished. The numerous wars my country has begun since the 1960s have been unfair and unjust. And with the end of the draft when I was in university, the military has changed radically. It no longer represents society as a whole.

Today, the military is composed either of young people who can’t get any other kind of job or who need the benefits once their service is finished, or avowed militarists.

Politicians today use the military not to protect our freedoms but to protect their positions in power.

I do stop during the day and think of my relatives in the Great Wars. I think of the way the country ultimately came together to fight world tyranny.

But that was all a long time ago, before I was born. In my life time, there is little in America’s wars to be proud of. They are mostly memories I wish I didn’t have.

I do empathize with the poor soldier, but I honor her/him no more than those who marched in Selma or the hundreds of thousands of unnamed heroes who still offer their lives for human rights in Baltimore and Ferguson.

So it is a complicated day with a much too simple name.

The Age of Presidents

The Age of Presidents

Today is the American Presidents’ Day holiday, and as in Africa perhaps we should think of as commemorating ‘The Age of Presidents.’

Officially marked to celebrate the birthday of our first president, George Washington, it was expanded by most of the states to also celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which also occurs in February, hence the name.

Some southern states, though, officially celebrate Washington and the third president, Thomas Jefferson, a ridiculous and clearly racist slap at the president who ended slavery.

It occurred to me, today, that this is an unique year for presidents in Africa as well. Today the authoritarian president in Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, bombed ISIS targets in Libya after Egyptian Copts were beheaded there.

Like the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, and like Obama for that matter, these men acted unilaterally, evoking whatever powers they perceive exist but certainly not any that emanate from any democratic processes.

Today America has 10,000 troops back in the Levant. (Read the last chapter of my novel, Chasm Gorge, where I predicted this.)

It seems to me we live in a time where democracy is not working, and that often any peace or stability or prosperity that occurs does so because an authoritarian person is benevolent.

Consider Kenya’s increasingly dictatorial president overseeing an increasingly peaceful and prosperous society.

Or the best example in all of Africa, the iron fisted completely ruthless Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Few countries in Africa today are as peaceful or prosperous as Rwanda.

The six years of an Obama presidency has seen American society recover masterfully from a terrible recession, try to end foreign conflicts and reduce the tension of illegal immigrants. Yet most of this was not done in a democratic way.

Perhaps in this modern age democracy is not the will of the people, but a tool to manipulate the will of the people. Happy President’s Day!