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Presidents Day

Well, today is a national holiday and, as usual, almost nobody will wake up this morning wondering what exactly it is that we are celebrating. Most people, me included, rarely question anything. We just go about our daily lives and accept things as they are without curiosity or wonder. A long time ago there was a holiday to celebrate our first president but Congress, in its infinite wisdom, changed it so that the festivities never fall on George Washington's birthday (February 22). Now we are stuck with a holiday that has three distinct versions: President's Day, Presidents' Day, and Presidents Day. I guess you are now free to choose whichever one suits your fancy. Each version has an implication that begs the question, “For who am I shopping this day of days, and do I really care?”

Since 1789 we have had 44 men, not women, who have served as president of our union. You do wonder why anyone would want to be president. It is one of those 24/7/365 jobs that are probably more trouble than it is worth unless you desperately need to feel important. The post has been filled with all kinds of people––men of great intellect, men of limited vision, slave holders and haberdashers, soldiers and sailors, aristocrats and common folk, authors and illiterates. One saved the union and freed the slaves. Another rescued the nation from his wheelchair. Others contributed nothing and emptied the treasury.  Eight of them died in office, one resigned in disgrace, and one, who appears to be an agent of a foreign power, is hanging on by a thread.
It is interesting that our founding fathers made the job requirements so few and easy to fill. The president must be 35 years of age, a natural born citizen, and a resident for 14 years. That’s it!

Columbo Day
In my 50 years of teaching I have always been amused that my students gleefully celebrate all kinds of holidays throughout the school year often without having the slightest idea what they are celebrating. When I taught summer session I always had to share the Declaration of Independence with my charges because they had never read this extraordinary document of audacious courage and valor.

Today is Columbus Day and we are parading and shopping in celebration of a man who had no idea where he was going and, when he got there, visited untold cruelty on the people he found there. However, he did open up the New World to plunder and slavery and that is always good from an economic standpoint that would probably sit well with our friends on Wall Street. The Spanish have never had it so good. Talk about balance of trade!

What most people do not know is that the year 1492 is also famous among the Jewish people because that is the year that good Queen Isabella expelled them from Spain after they had lived there for almost 1500 years. It is entirely possible that Colon’s expedition was completely paid for by the gold and silver that Isabella forcefully took from the departing Hebrews. Now, Isabella did not start the problem for the alien Semites. By the time she came along the Jews had been suffering mightily under Christian rule for at least a century, but to be expelled without your worldly possessions is a punishment visited on very few peoples throughout history. We are talking about at least 200,000 people who were forced to leave or convert. Some of them left with Colombo, or followed after him, and prospered in the New World so the end result it was not entirely negative.

Just to put this all in perspective, expelling Jews was a very popular European policy to which England, France, and Germany also subscribed. It turns out that the Chosen People have not been very popular in most of the locales where they settled. You only need to read The Merchant of Venice to get the idea. As the Old Testament tells us, we wandered for forty years in the desert after the flight from bondage in Egypt, and we have been wandering ever since. When the Romans expelled the Jews from Judea in 70AD they started a diaspora that two millennia later recreated the land of Israel much to the chagrin of the locals who had hoped they would never return. It is no wonder they are still fighting each other for the past 70 years.

As you can see, this whole Colombo thing is very complicated and very dirty so I am, once again, suggesting that we call this day Explorers Day, a celebration everybody can get behind because none of us have any idea where we are going or what we will do when we get there, but we are all adventurers in our individual lives. Incredibly, when I was a kid they used to say that Columbus discovered America! They used to say silly stuff like that because they figured without scholarship or education the unwashed would buy whatever they were selling. Thankfully those days are gone…or are they?

Stephen Jablonsky. October 2018

Honoring Doctor King

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, since we are all taking the day off from work thanks to him, it might just be appropriate to stop for a moment to think about how he lived and why he died.

Every society needs people who, despite their own personal shortcomings and foibles, are willing to make an effort to better the world they inhabit. While his words were often inspiring, he walked the walk for equal rights for all Americans, not just those who had tasted the bitter fruit of slavery and oppression. He made a real effort to represent the needs of all those who have been disenfranchised from the halls of power and are often the forgotten ones when it comes to addressing the basic human right to nutritious food, decent shelter, and good health care.

He also protested his country’s bloodlust and incessant need for war mongering, and that was his undoing. His efforts were barely tolerated by the international power brokers when what he fought for was just better wages for garbage collectors, but, when his ability to mobilize his fellow citizens for peace was clearly demonstrated, that was too much for those who stood to profit from our ill-conceived, criminal escapade in Southeast Asia. Like the two Kennedy brothers, who also threatened the profitability of the Military-Industrial Complex, he needed to be removed. In all three murders an innocent patsy was provided to cover up the deadly professionalism of an American governmental agency that has issued its own license for madness and mayhem in the name of national security. Their mission, over time, changed from the gathering of intelligence to the overthrow of governments and the assassination of heads of state. Their actions are those of a shadow government whose sinister exploits are only palatable to the American public in the realm of cinema.  Unfortunately, we have corporate-sponsored mass media that is loathe to report the truth when it involves heinous deeds that are deemed unmentionable. Their deceit parallels the information shell game that is perpetrated on an unsuspecting electorate by a government that, for a very long time, has institutionalized the art of lying.

Let us no forget that Americans continue to be asked to sacrifice their lives and fortunes to support our national addiction to military conquest and world domination. Every time we pretend to better our society we call it a war–the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty–or we go to war and give the endeavor an ironic, PR-tested title like Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From one January to the next we need to honor Dr. King’s memory by being ever vigilant and objecting to the home-grown lies and injustices that prevent this country from fulfilling the dream its founders eloquently penned so long ago and hoped one day would become a reality.

Stephen Jablonsky

July 4th

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

The men who founded this country wrote those words for us to read today. Even though they could not establish an order that put those sentiments into full effect then, they penned those principles as a standard against which we could measure our actions as the country progressed through the ages. In order to make America better we need citizens who have read the Declaration of Independence and know about this country’s history since that fateful day. Easily digestible sound bites, hot dogs, fireworks, and parades are not enough. We all need to know of the sacrifices that have been made to establish and maintain this vast republic of indigenous people, slaves, and endless waves of immigrants. We need to be led by a president who is a true patriot, providing liberty and justice for all.   Now sing God Bless America, fire up the grill, and chow down with those you cherish. 

The Winter Solstice  

The Earth takes one whole year to travel around the sun. The path it takes is known as an orbit. While it travels in this orbit it is spinning. The spinning takes 24 hours and gives us day and night. However, the Earth does not spin straight up and down. It is tilted relative to the sun. Therefore, the length of the day changes throughout the year. In the northern hemisphere the longest day of the year is June 21st and is known as the summer solstice. On that day the tilt faces directly at the sun. The shortest day of the year is December 21st and is known as the winter solstice. On that day the tilt is farthest away from the sun. After that the days get longer by one minute every day.  

Cultures around the world celebrate the winter solstice as the beginning of winter even though it can get cold and snow in November. The summer solstice signals the beginning of summer but, for many, Memorial Day in May is their official start. We also celebrate March 20th as the beginning of spring. On that day we have what is called an equinox. That is when the sun is directly above the equator at high noon. It is half way between winter and summer and usually features flowers popping out of the ground. The equinox happens again on September 23rd. That is the first day of fall when many people celebrate the final harvest of the growing season.  

Because the winter solstice is a short day and gets dark early many cultures celebrate with festive lights and candles. Although we do not know when Jesus was born, the church fathers decided to make December 25th his official birthday early in the fourth century. This was the date of the winter solstice in the old Roman calendar. The way we celebrate Christmas (Christ's Mass) is a combination of many European traditions. Things like Christmas trees, yule logs, and stockings hung by the fireplace have nothing to do with Bet'lehem. That is the Israeli town in Galilee where, according to the Gospels, little baby Jesus was born in a manger, whatever that is.  

The tradition of gift giving has turned Christmas into the biggest economic engine of the year. In America the shopping season begins the day after Thanksgiving. For some reason that day is known as Black Friday. That is when almost everything goes on sale and people do not pay retail prices. They take advantage of deep discounts offered in stores and online. For cultures that know how to bargain, 15% is not a discount.  

According to legend, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. That is where his workshop, populated by elves, makes all the toys for good little boys and girls.  Jesus, on the other hand, lived in the Middle East where there were no Christmas trees, sleighs, or reindeer. Maybe those two never met. Both individuals are legends that have, for many people, become facts, although I recently saw Santa at my local mall taking selfies with kids too little to know better. I never remember seeing Jesus at the mall.  

Enjoy the holidays with friends and family! ... and stay warm!!