Saturday, December 27, 2008

Southern California, part 2

OK, so when I said "tomorrow" on that last post, I was taking for granted that you people understand that time is relative. So... yeah, that's what I meant.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Actually, I've been in negotiations with the wife to figure out what I should and shouldn't say about various parts of this trip (hey, I have to live with the woman - you don't! Don't judge me!!)

So, Luke had his little ceremony with 455 of his newest, closest friends, and we picked up his bag and loaded it in the trunk. Then, we did the one thing that is closest to a marine's heart - we went for a meal.

Specifically, we went to a little Italian place near the base which I won't name, for reasons that might just become apparent.

We went in, and were greeted by a relatively attractive Turkish woman who turned out to be our waitress (OK, technically, I thought she was relatively attractive; Luke, who'd been stuck in close quarters for twelve weeks with 76 other guys, thought she was gorgeous). Our waitress, upon hearing we were celebrating my son's release from Boot Camp, asked us if we wanted to celebrate with a bottle of wine. We settled on a modestly-priced bottle of red, which she promptly served us. Without checking ID's on anyone. We didn't feel that we should embarrass her when she poured a glass for my other, 18-year-old son, Christopher. (Admittedly, he's well over six feet and remarkably hairy, but still...)

We then wandered around the San Diego wharfs for a while, checking out some old sailing ships in the San Diego Maritime Museum, including the HMS Surprise, which was abused for the movie Master and Commander.

Then we did something remarkably foolish. We drove from San Diego to my sister's apartment in North Hollywood. On the freeway. During rush hour. This should have taken about 2 hours. It took five.

In my defense, I didn't know any way to get there that didn't take the freeway. Plus, living in Albuquerque, it's been a while since I was in a real traffic jam. On top of which, I'm a congenital idiot.

My sister lives in LA with a man who I like a lot, but we didn't get to see him this trip because she'd just sent him to New York for his health and general welfare (apparently, LA wasn't agreeing with him).

But we saw Lilli, and the next day headed back to Albuquerque. We took a more southerly route getting back, to avoid Flagstaff, where they were anticipating snow. (My wife lived in Flagstaff - she knows their snow.)

We used pretty much the same system as we did on the way up. I took over a little earlier, because Annette, for various reasons, didn't get as much sleep as she'd hoped. Luke and I (and then Luke and Chris) crashed in the back seat, leaning on Luke's duffel bag, which was too big to fit in the trunk.

On the way, we kept seeing billboards for "The Thing!" in Dragoon, Arizona. We saw these billboards roughly once every five miles, for about two to three hundred miles, as soon as we crossed into Arizona. (And, to be entirely honest, we had no idea that "the Thing!" was in Dragoon, since that thriving metropolis is about 4 miles further off the road. But "the Thing!" was right off the highway, at a good location to stretch our legs, and we pulled over.

It was an otherwise normal truckstop, with all the usual money-making opportunities: a cafe, with (if I remember right, a Dairy Queen attached), gas, T-shirts, 900 different types of souvenirs, and "the Thing!" (They wouldn't tell you what it was, and neither will I. Hey, the American entrepreneurial spirit lives on, right?)

So, anyway, the entry fee into "the Thing!" was a whole dollar (seventy-five cents for kids). And as I was stretching my legs, Chris asked if we were going in. So I handed him a dollar and said "Tell me about it when you're done."

And then a miracle happened. You see, I'm the father, right? I make the decisions. What I say goes; it's a law of nature. It's how things have been for millions of years. (Or six thousand years, if you're a fundamentalist Christian...)

So I stop looking at the t-shirts and ceramic outhouses, and wander into the men's room, wondering if the Dairy Queen dipped cones are any better than I remember (and what I remember is dark brown paraffin over cold sweetened lard). And as I came out, wiping my hands on my pants (yeah, I sometimes wash my hands - I just don't always dry them well), my son wanders over, to tell me that everybody was waiting for me. So that we could all go into "the Thing!!"

Somewhere along the line, I'd lost control of things. I had been under the impression that I wasn't going to be wasting any time on this roadside "attraction," and that I was only wasting a buck on my son's unending curiosity. But my sons and my wife had apparently started making decisions without me, and we were apparently all going in together. (This was made much more palatable by my older son, the newly-minted marine, who was willing to pay for everybody else to go in.)

The only other memorable part of this trip, really, involved something that occurred a few seconds later, when we were standing by the counter waiting to go in. You see, I noticed that the cutoff for the children's entrance was age 18. So when my older son told the lady that we needed four tickets to get in, I piped up with "That's three adults, and one child."

That statement threw the lady behind the counter for a moment. She looked at us, and I motioned to my youngest and said "He's only 18." Which led her to ask to see some kind of ID.

Yes, that's right. You can look at this incident in one of two ways. Either we charged her a quarter to see his ID, or (my preferred version) Chris was carded to get into a cheap roadside attraction, but not to get a glass of wine.

Take it however you want.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Our little trip to Southern California

OK, so last week, my son graduated from Boot Camp. I've already talked about my feelings on the subject, so let's move past that. He did a hell of a job, and I'm proud of him.

My wife has a few physical issues. Between the Polycystic Kidney Disease (learn about it here, if you want) and the arthritis, she can't comfortably drive for more than a few hours; sitting is easier, but after a few hours in the car, there's no way she could take over the driving duties. So obviously, she had to either drive first, or not at all.

She has another issue, but it's one we thought we could exploit. If she goes to bed too early, she wakes up at about two in the morning and can't get back to sleep. It doesn't matter how tired she is, she wakes up. So, we packed the car the night before, she went to bed around six in the evening, and got up around one or two. (All times are approximate.) She got her bath, woke me up, and I stumbled my semi-comatose ass out to the car, curled up in the back seat and went back to sleep. And my other son, who at eighteen years old, feels that staying up all night is the natural way to live your life, climbed in the front seat to keep her awake.

You don't get the best sleep in the world in a car. OK, I don't: I know that some people have no problem with that, and I know from experience that when babies are cranky and refuse to sleep, strapping them in the car and going for a drive can work like a charm. But, by staying up until eleven or midnight, I was still groggy enough that I was out like a light shortly after we got on the highway.

Four or five hours later, we pulled into Flagstaff, Arizona, and swapped seats. My son, now seriously ready to sleep, got in the back seat. My wife, who sleeps in a car even worse than I do, stiffly climbed into the passenger seat, and I cracked open a coke and took over as pilot.

(One thing: my wife, stiff as she was, promptly crossed her legs under her, in what they used to call "tailor-fashion" - how do women do that? Especially when she's already said that she needed to trade because she was too stiff to drive. It's one of those mysteries of life, I guess.)

On the way to San Diego from Flagstaff, we hit one agricultural checkpoint (at the California border), and two illegal alien checkpoints. Admittedly, we were within spitting distance of Mexico for part of the drive, but it seems strange that we're expending so many resources on checking for illegal immigrants - the one thing that Bush has succeeded in doing is reducing the influx of undocumented aliens. Admittedly, he did this by ass-raping the economy, so that they have less incentive to come here, but he did manage it. So big props there; incompetence has an upside, after all.

We got to the motel at around three - one benefit of setting out early was that we had time to get settled in, and not just stagger groggily to bed. We also had time to consult the map, figure out the best way to get to the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot (or MCRD), and scout out the path ahead of time. (Where, incidentally, we discovered that gas was twenty cents per gallon cheaper than off-base prices. Score!)

Thursday morning, we wandered down to the MCRD, because it was "Family Day" (i.e., "We'll let you see your newly-hatched recruit, but you can't take him off-base."). And we found ourselves listening to a Drill Instructor (or DI) who sounded remarkably like Cheech Marin (imagine Cheech from the '70's, telling us that the next morning, we should get to the parade grounds two and a half hours early, to be sure that we got a seat: "So you chould get there at 7:30, with a little cafecito, a little pastry...").

Then the recruits had their "motivational run" (apparently, marines are motivated by the chance to run in formation), and then shuffled off to the barracks while we, their families, went to the Base Theater, where we first got to see a film about their training (which sounded remarkably like cult indoctrination, but with guns), and then got to sit there while a couple of marines speechified at us.

One of the speeches, from the MCRD Commanding General, BG Salinas (surprisingly short woman), included the statement "Now, when the formation breaks and you get the chance to hug your Little Johnnie, and you rush up to him and you look and realize that this isn't your Little Johnnie, hug him anyway. Because somewhere over there, somebody else's parents are hugging your Little Johnnie."

Her point, of course, was that all the marines, with their freshly-shaved heads, looked alike. Which may have been relatively true with some of these beetle-browed hydrocephalics, but we'd already seen Luke in formation, and he wasn't quite as Neanderthalic as the rest. (Is "Neanderthalic" a word? Hmmm... Well, it is now...)

And shortly after that, the new marines all fell in, yelled a little bit, got spoken to sternly, and we got to spend the afternoon with Luke.

He looked about the same: the hair was a little shorter, the muscles actually less than when we'd seen him last, but in uniform instead of jeans and a tee-shirt. He walks a little taller, but overall, he's still my son.

And apparently, he was already a marine. The graduation ceremony the next day was a complete formality: apparently, they're called marines as soon as they finish this grueling, three-day hazing called "the Crucible," where, in the course of this three days, they get a total of eight hours of sleep and two MRE's (that's "Meal, Ready to Eat," if you don't know), and then they have a four or five hour march through the hills of San Diego. Mostly uphill.

The next morning, 455 new marines marched onto the big old blactop football field that they call the "parade deck," yelled a little more, the band played, there was more speechifying (this time including a talk by the Secretary of the Navy), and they were done.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Just drink your damned eggnog and stop making up "wars"

November has turned to December, the white meat from the turkey has slowly turned grey, and the War on Christmas has begun.

In Olympia, Washington, the first shot of the annual "war" has to do with an atheist group putting up a sign opposite a "holiday tree" and a nativity scene. A sign reading, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." And with this simple sign, they caused Bill O'Reilly to have a brain aneurysm.

There's a long history of tension in Washington State. It seems that, in 2005, state Rep. John Ahern (R-Unsurprisingly) took umbrage at the politically-correct "Holiday Tree" in the state capitol, donated by the Association of Washington Businesses.
Ahern objected, saying the thing was clearly a Christmas tree. In protest, he gathered with a few dozen supporters on the steps of the Capitol to sing carols that year. Then he tucked a little "Merry Christmas" sign at the base of the tree, along with a shiny cardboard cutout of a Jewish menorah.

And so it began. The next year, bearded orthodox rabbis gathered with Gov. Chris Gregoire to light a large menorah in the rotunda. That triggered a request by Olympia real-estate agent Ron Wesselius to erect the Nativity scene.

State officials balked. Wesselius sued. The state settled, and Wesselius last year was allowed to prop up the figures on the Capitol's third floor. As a result, Capitol officials now say they'll honor virtually any request for a religious or political display. As long as it's not disruptive, costs taxpayers nothing and is not seen as the state endorsing any viewpoint, "it's pretty much wide open," said Steve Valandra, spokesman for General Administration, the state agency that issues the permits. "It's free expression."
As a concept, the War on Christmas is primarily a 21st century construct, promoted by right-wing pundits in an effort to provoke feigned outrage. A similar term ("Kulturkampf against Christmas") was used in 1999 against Housing and Urban Development Secretary Anthony Cuomo (he had ruled that HUD would use multicultural references in a 4-floor holiday celebration - it should probably be noted that the group using this term, VDARE, is opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has called them a hate group composed of "racial nationalists").

But that isn't the only shot being fired this year. A member of the Utah State Senate (and, imagine that, also a Republican) is sponsoring a nonbinding resolution encouraging retailers to use "Christmas" instead of "holidays" in their advertising. (Apparently, the Mormon church has successfully solved every other problem in Utah, and they can afford to spend their time and money on this kind of thing.)

Many point to Bill O'Reilly as the leading General in the War on Christmas. He is one of the biggest names to rant against the issue every year, along with other right-wing luminaries (luminarias?) such as Sean Hannity. In 2004, O'Reilly and Hannity worked together to pubicize several examples of "Christmas Under Siege." (The earliest reference I'm finding for this current spate of stupidity is December 10, 2004, although I've found references saying that it was December 3, 2004 when Bill O'Reilly launched his first assault on the subject, as far as I can tell.)

Other right-wing pundits were quick to join in: John Gibson of Fox News actually went so far as to publish a book in 2005 titled "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought."

(We should probably ignore that Bill O'Reilly published a "holiday reading list" .this year - it doesn't mean that he's given up the fight. After all, Fox News annually holds a "holiday party" instead of a Christmas party. Strangely, Bill O hasn't complained about that so far.)

There are even websites devoted to listing every shot fired in this War, and several published "Naughty Lists" of retailers who aren't sufficiently Christmassy.

But this culture of repression is an ongoing theme among some Christians. In 2002, a family in Queens, NY, backed by the Catholic League, filed suit against the City of New York and the Department of Education, saying that their policy allowing secular holiday decoration discriminated against Roman Catholics.

Of course, times change, as does the battlefront in the War. As far back as 1921, in an antisemitic 4-volume set entitled "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem," Henry Ford complained about "Jewish opposition to Christmas," and even listed several of their attacks on Christmas.

Almost forty years later, the John Birch Society" decided that the villain wasn't Jews, but Communists.
In 1959, the recently formed John Birch Society issued an urgent alert: Christmas was under attack. In a JBS pamphlet titled "There Goes Christmas?!" a writer named Hubert Kregeloh warned, "One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas -- to denude the event of its religious meaning." The central front in this perfidious assault was American department stores, where the "Godless UN" was scheming to replace religious decorations with internationalist celebrations of universal brotherhood.

"The UN fanatics launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand," the pamphlet explained. "They are already busy, however, at this very moment, on efforts to poison the 1959 Christmas season with their high-pressure propaganda. What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this: Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations."
With one in four Americans no longer identifying themselves as Christian, you'd think that it would be time to include everybody else in Christmas.

But that isn't how the game is played. The "War on Christmas" isn't about peace and goodwill at all. It's a celebration of victimization, more than anything else. It's a continuation of the drumbeat of "Fear the latest enemy!" that's worked so effectively for Bush and company. A former radio news director explains it best.
To begin with, talk show hosts such as Charlie Sykes – one of the best in the business – are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.

To succeed, a talk show host must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims, and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners.
So if you run across somebody decrying the War on Christmas, just ask them, "If this is really a season of peace and joy, shouldn't you be trying to spread some?"