Monday, December 19, 2011

A Miracle Happened There

Let me tell you a story. One you may have heard before, but bears retelling none the less..

It is a story of Oppressing Armies, rebels, determination, the will to survive and perseverance.

Once upon a time there were some people who lived in a tight little community; they lived together, they worked together, and they all shared a belief passed to them through blood and through teaching.

They had a massive Temple , built for them with instructions of their God as passed through man.

It was a hard time in the world, and though they tried to simply hold on to what they had, they were overrun. Their temple was seized, and it was converted to the worship of the conqueror's God. This upset the local people, and though they wanted to fight and regain it, many felt the chance for reprisals too strong; the penalty for insurrection to harsh; in time the army made it punishable by death to even cling to the old religion.

Slowly, a small band of resistance fighters did emerge however - and the invading army gathered up the leaders of the community and told them " Worship our God!" and " Here, dine upon this swine" - both of which were strictly forbidden by their faith. One man, Matthias, was one of the high priests and he refused. It angered the invading army, and when a local villager said " I will do it for him" it angered Matthias so much that he drew a sword and slew him. Matthias then killed the man who had made the demands, and Matthias's sons and others from the village were emboldened enough to kill the remaining squadron of the invading soldiers.

They took to the hills, where others with the same desire to regain what they had lost banned with them. At some point they became known as Hasmoneans, or more commonly as "Maccabees".

The Maccabees were fierce fighters; they had both the will of their God with them, and a desire to see things set back as they had been. Matthias the Maccabee did not live to see it; most of his son's did including Judah, whose fierce fighting earned him the name "Judah the Hammer".They recaptured their sacred Temple, but it had been defiled with the worship of a false God as well as the sacrificing of swine. It was not fit for the service of their God, and needed to be purified and rededicated. To do so would require the burning of sacred oil, for eight days. They searched and searched the Temple, and were dismayed to find only enough oil for one day - one lonely day when eight were needed to prepare more. But with faith and determination they lit the Menorah with it's one day of oil, and it burned for 8 nights.

It was a miracle that happened there.

I love this little story - it speaks to parts of me I cannot explain - the firm determination of the Maccabees ; their faith that they could , would, and did see the retaking of that which was theirs; and the simple yet miraculous event that surrounded the one day's oil burning for 8 nights.

One thing I never understood growing up, in a Christian household - was why we did not celebrate Hanukkah too - we heard the tale each year in church, and these Maccabees were the Jews who from whom our Faith soon grew - to not celebrate such an amazing event baffled me.

Now, older, I have no field of religion upon which I pitch my tent; but so far as stories of hope, determination, faith and reward go, the story of Matthias and the Maccabees is one of the few that finds resonance in my bones.

Happy Hanukkah my friends, and remember - A miracle happened there...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Iraq : War is Over

In a moment of rare seriousness I want to say : I am overjoyed at the end of military action in Iraq. Too many dead among the military on both sides; way to many dead among the civilian population of Iraq , numbering so high as to equal the Rwandan genocidal killing fields ; we saw the worst of ourselves at Abu Ghraib; we went on lies; we shattered and forever mangled the minds and bodies of young men who were told they were "Doing the right thing" and quickly learned they were not but had no choice but to follow orders; billions and billions of wasted dollars on a war that served no purpose.

But none of that is what brings me the most joy. What brings me joy is that this evening, for the first time in their memory, I can put my children to sleep knowing that one war has ended.

Now, let's get the boys and girls out of Afghanistan, and let our small ones go to bed knowing that we have no war at all.

Please remember today those who have lost their sons; their daughters. Look the young men with mangled legs and arms and plates in their skulls in their eyes and blame them not for the war; they were but part of the machine, not the ones who invented it; and take a moment today to reflect, or pray, or meditate about how awesome that ideal is , that ideal of peace; that ideal of not running off rattling sabers and firing muskets; and then take a moment to remember the over 1 million dead on both sides , and ask yourself was it all worth it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Free Market vs. Free Speech

Stop. Before you even read this - you need to do your homework. Unless your live in a cave or under a bridge, You are probably aware of the Lowe's Home Improvement decision to pull it's advertising support from TLC's "All American Muslim" program.

And unless you just woke up from a coma, or are one of the seven people in the world without Facebook or Twitter, you have probably seen either a whirl wind of indignation, or support, or both, depending on the leanings of the folks you socialize with.

OK, now that you have done your homework, here is my thoughts.

I have in the past , when made aware of the financial support by one Corporation to a cause or charity I did not agree with, decided to "fight back with my wallet" - by boycotting / avoiding them.

A great example is of McDonald's. I learned in a Sociology class that McDonald's was a major supporter of a charity that , at the time, I did not approve of. And for 8 years I did not spend my money at a McDonald's. In the spirit of total transparency, I will admit I did eat McDonald's food - so long as someone else paid for it. I had no problem with the food you see - just with my money going to folks I would not give my money to willingly.

Let's step away for a second, but we will come back.

It is an ideal that it is my money, and thus my control is excised upon its use - but really - it is not. It is money in a cycle - I work for a corporation, and they pay me ( and the last thing I want is them to boycott me over my choice of causes ) then it is my oney for a minute and I decide how to spend it either on food or lumber or to a charity, Once I spend it - on a cheeseburger, a piece of lumber, whatever - it ceases to be my money. And if McDonald's wanted to support a scholarship program I felt unfairly supported folks at the expense of others - then well, at that point, it was their money. It is a cycle.

So Back to my personal Anti-McDonald's campaign. I grew up. I realized that their support was not racist; rather my non-support was - and I dealt with my own inner problem.

The fact is McDonald's is a huge ass corporation and it can spend its monies how it wants - and really - if it spends some to educate people, that is kinda awesome.

Now to today - Lowe's got some heat from an Ultra Conservative group and the pulled ad dollars from a show about Muslims.

DO I agree? Hell no.

Do I understand? Grudgingly.

Lowe's is a business; it can spend it's money on advertising where it wants. The point of advertising is to encourage customers to come in the door and spend more moeny; the purpose of advertising is not to prop up and support a program. That's the local charity event form of advertising - let's get a name on a poster for 3 hours!

No, fact is, someone at Lowe's had to make a decision - do we continue to spend money on ads for a second tier low exposure TV show and risk a potential public relations disaster, or do we pull it and risk a public relations disaster?

A hard choice, isn't it? The Lady or The Tiger seems like a cake walk in comparison.

In an age where Rick Perry posts a video like this, and where there are people who still think that the President Of The United States is a Muslim despite the fact he attends Christian Services and was a member of the same Christian congregation for over 20 years , such a choice would be a nightmare to discuss in a board room.

I am sure at some point, the dollars boiled down to : who can we afford to piss off the most? And a decision was made.

I will say this about Lowe's. In April of 2011 the Lowe's that is local to me was destroyed in the middle of a shopping day by a tornado. Within days , it is my understanding (from word of mouth, not from news reports) that Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR Driver sponsored by Lowe's had reached out to provide some relief to the workers of that store; ( from my personal witnessing ) the workers were spread out to other stores to work and keep their jobs, ( and from my real life career ) the old store removed and construction rushed to get it back in place.

I have friends who work there. I have shopped there for years, and since it reopened I have enjoyed shopping in the new store. They may always seem to be out of at least one item I need, but they have decent service.

I do not see myself boycotting Lowe's over this - they pretty much were painted into a corner, and had to make a hard call. But I find a big difference in boycotting a group because they FUND something you oppose, versus boycotting a company that decides to not spend their ad dollars where they decide not to.

When you step back and look, you can find a reason to pretty much boycott just about any business - Chik Fil A pops to mind as a popular target. And then you can look at all of the brouhaha surrounding the Tourism boycotts of South Carolina; the whole Boycott B.P. ruckus after the Deep water Horizon episode; Amazon; Sony, Gillette; General Electric - if you have a name, someone probably wants to boycott you.

None of these boycotts seem to go any farter than " Don't spend a few dollars with so and so - because they support/don't support such and such." And honestly, a lot of these boycotts seem more about getting attention for the ones doing the boycotting, and not to their platform or agenda.

We have , in our history, witnessed amazingly successful boycotts : The Montgomery Bus Boycott is the prototypical success and lesson to learn from. But it was successful in it's simplicity - the bus lines were confined to Montgomery, and the impact was direct. While there were several tens of buses, cabs cut rates to support the protesters and there was a myriad of other functions that fueled the overall protest - it was more than just " don't ride the bus".

Now - Lowe's had 1,749 stores in January 2011. They are spread across the United States - an organized boycott would mean be possible only if the needs of those boycotting can be filled by another provider - like the cabs for those boycotting the buses. But not every town has an alternative. But even if they did - you have to then factor in at what cost? Do yu want Lowe's to suffer to the point that people you know lose jobs? Do you wnat to see a store that an entire community rallied around to resurrect close?

I don't.

What i would like is for Lowe's to step up and say " Oops. We did not think that through - we want to renew our contract". But you know what would happen - folks who feel just as strongly that they did the correct thing would then start their boycott.

it is a never ending cycle.

Lowe's ( and Chik Fil A, and G.E. and Disney, et. al ) are not the real problem - we are.

So long as we remain so polemic that we have to make folks choose side, and make folks define every little detail, we will never be able to satisfy everyone.

So as for me, no, I will not be boycotting Lowe's. I will be using them to get the things I need. I will however, try to direct the things I want, and cannot live without, to stores that are small, and local, and support causes I agree with.

In the short run - it is the Free Market versus Free Speech, as applied by your money.

But in the long run, it's not my money after all - I'm just holding it for a minute.