Even in this rapidly changing world, we can always count on a few annual events – swallows returning to Capistrano, back-to-school sales, and of course the annual Fox News whining about the War on Christmas. According to their complaints, godless anti-religious socialists are trying to ruin the American way of life by asking that governments, schools, and even – gasp – retailers try to be inclusive. Pundits point to some horrid city council that decides to replace its annual Nativity scene with a ‘winter’ scene, or stores that use ‘Happy Holiday’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ in their advertisements.
Look, I get it – 77% of the country identifies as Christian, Christmas is a national holiday, and I expect to be bombarded by it for at least a month. And I’m not offended when a Target clerk wishes me Merry Christmas even as she rings up my Hanukkah candles & cards. But I also appreciate the occasional ‘Happy Holidays,’ acknowledging that some of us – in fact, 23% of us – don’t observe Christmas, at least as a religious holiday.
And as for the whining about political correctness in schools, try to imagine what it’s like for Jewish or Muslim kids in a class making Christmas ornaments and preparing for a Christmas concert. Would it be so hard to teach them “Winter Wonderland” or “White Christmas” and save “Away In A Manger” for church?
Sarah Palin is making a whole career move out of this manufactured controversy, with a new book and of course a major book tour, insisting we need to have MORE Christmas and more religious observances in public. In a recent interview she answered a question about other religions being offended by saying, “In my family we have the Menorah out through December on our kitchen table, because I want to teach my children about the Jewish faith.” Which shows just how little she knows about the Jewish faith: Hanukkah only lasts 8 days, and Menorahs get lit and displayed in a window, not left on the kitchen table like a bowl of fruit. (Besides, that type of comment sounds an awful lot like “Some of my best friends are . . . “ But I digress . . . )
Anyway, no matter what holidays we observe at this time of year, it’s a good chance to stop and think about what’s important in life, to count our blessings. So I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, et al, for frequently making my job so easy.
I am very familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, having read the book. President Mandela and Desmond Tutu embody what we Christians like to believe we are like.
However, I cannot think of Nelson Mandela without thinking of this song that haunted me at the time. It is prescient and hopeful and quite moving. I still play it on YouTube when working and it reminds of what can be accomplished by those who never give up hope.
I was in the hospital in New Zealand at the time, and the Kiwis were having their own problems with the South Africans.
” (known in some versions as “Free Nelson Mandela
“) is a song written by Jerry Dammers
and performed by his Coventry
-based band The Special A.K.A.
- with lead vocal by Stan Campbell – released on the single Nelson Mandela / Break Down The Door
in 1984 as a protest against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela
by the apartheid
South African government. Unlike most protest songs, the track is upbeat and celebratory, drawing on musical influences from South Africa. The song reached No.9 in the UK charts and was immensely popular in Africa
If you have never heard it, check it out.
Okay, maybe the older version of that title phrase (involving contempt) might still be true regarding annoying relatives. (My father used to insist there was just one small group of them who went from wedding to bar mitzvah to reunion, changing accents and clothing but otherwise identical, and including the great-aunts who commiserated about their digestive issues, the cousin who told offensive jokes, and the cocktail-swilling uncle who insisted on singing his off-key version of “New York New York” with the band. But I digress.)
However, I have noticed that when people get to know someone with a different political viewpoint, sexual orientation, or national origin, they are much more likely to view them positively. This has been strikingly true when it comes to issues like same-sex marriage, where even die-hard conservatives with gay relatives soften their views (unless they have another relative running for office on an anti-gay-marriage platform . . . . see Cheney: Dick). I know I’ve become more tolerant of conservative views with which I disagree since I found out a few of my best friends are Republicans and I took the time to listen to their reasoning. (I still disagree with them, but at least I don’t think of them as mutant aliens – remember, I live in the San Francisco area, where Republicans are as rare as Democrats were when I was growing up in Orange County.)
Speaking of growing up in Orange County, back in my day, Jews were equally rare, so I was usually the only kid in my class who could explain our holidays. I actually did have to correct one 4th grade classmate who had heard that Chanukah involved worshipping potato chips. (He’d heard something about potatoes and frying . . . love that 4th grade logic!) (Mind you, Jews can be equally ignorant, especially given the rampant commercialization of Christian holidays – when they were little, my sons were convinced that Christmas celebrated the birthday of Santa Claus.)
So in honor of Chanukah, I thought I’d offer a few pointers to help those of you who don’t celebrate it.
- Chanukah started several thousand years ago, so it isn’t part of an insidious war on Christmas
- Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday (we have TONS of them), so faux-Christmas touches like Chanukah bushes are not very authentic
- Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufignot (jelly donuts) are traditional and delicious, meaning the holiday is a great excuse to eat fried food
- Contrary to what some envious kids might think, Jewish kids don’t usually get 8 days of elaborate gifts (as a rule mine get one big present and 7 days of wrapped-up books, snacks, and socks . . . hey, I’m a working musician and this is my busy period!)
And in case you need any more clarification, here’s a little musical explanation -
“The Chanukah Cha Cha”:
Politics and show business make interesting but strange bedfellows – and one could say that’s both a metaphor and a literal statement (Jerry Brown & Linda Ronstadt, anyone?) For starters, there is substantial cross-over betwee the two fields – elections often seem more about show-biz glitz than issues, while actors complain about the ‘politics’ of casting. Plus celebrities frequently endorse candidates, who in turn may solicit those endorsements, or quote from plays and songs (or in the case of Herman Cain, lyrics from a Pokemon movie).
My career has been a hybrid of both, starting when I was a child trying to decide if my goal was to be a concert classical pianist or the first female president. (Yeah, I was an unambitious kid.) I wavered between going to law school or becoming a starving artist, and while I settled on the latter, I never lost my interest in politics. So it’s been great fun to combine both issues in these weekly videos, which has let me weigh in on current issues without having to mount a campaign. (I opted out of politics because of my thin skin and propensity to burst into tears at everything from Kodak commercials to being put on hold, not because of any skeletons in my closet – I have an embarrassingly unembarrasing past!)
But every now and then, a politician comes along whose entire career seems too theatrical to take seriously – sort of like the presidential campaigns of either Pat Paulsen (if you’re old enough to remember him) or Stephen Colbert (for everyone else). And we’ve had some doozies in this country – I’ve particularly enjoyed the hypocrites like Larry Craig, with his ‘I wasn’t playing footsie in an airport bathroom, I just have a really wide stance,’ or anti-gay activist George Rekers with his ‘rent-a-boy’ travel companion. However, nothing compares to Toronto’s Rob Ford – from denying he smoked crack to claiming he didn’t lie because reporters didn’t ask the right questions, to insisting that if bike riders get killed by cars, it’s their fault. In fact, more than a few people have wondered if his antics are just a giant performance art piece. – and I’m sure Anthony Weiner is wishing he’d run for mayor in Toronto, where his measly texted crotch shots would be child’s play. Meanwhile, Ford is defiantly staying in the public eye, despite being stripped of most of his authority and despite the additional allegations that come forward daily (from arrests for domestic violence to the checkered records of his driver and gym trainer). (And yes, “Rob Ford’s Gym Trainer” does seem like an incredible oxymoron.)
Rob Ford is larger than life, both literally and figuratively, and someone really should write a song about him. So I did.
Don’t get me wrong, nostalgia has a big place in my life. I love elements of the past, including Victorian novels, big band music from the 1920s, and full-skirted cocktail dresses from the 1950s. But I wouldn’t want to live in any of those eras, largely for practical considerations (I was one of those annoying kids who couldn’t read The Little House books without wondering how and where they went to the bathroom, and much as I love Jane Austen-esque romance, I wouldn’t really want to live without antibiotics, electricity, or the ability of women to own and inherit property, which of course was the issue driving most of the romance anyhow).
A lot of things have improved over the years, and one advantage of getting older is that we get to see change for the better. I gaped at my mother’s stories of her college sorority (which had “girdle checks” every morning) kicking her out for dating my father (who wasn’t in an approved fraternity, on top of being Jewish), and my kids are horrified when I tell them about learning to type on a manual typewriter, or that until I was in 8th grade, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school.
Now my boys can look forward to telling their kids about when gay marriage wasn’t a universal right – They were born in the mid-90s, so they’ve seen the whole progression of the issue. (In fact, the first wedding my older son attended was that of my college best friend and his partner, who had a commitment ceremony when my son was 3, and I served as the ‘best man’. For a few years after that, David was puzzled when he saw an opposite-sex couple get married.)
Since my kids are 17 and 20, I hope I have to wait awhile for grandchildren (although I do expect them eventually, boys, in case you’re reading this). So in the meantime, I will rejoice as each state adopts marriage equality and come up with an appropriate song – here’s my tribute to Hawaii.
I’ve long maintained that the skills we develop as mothers could come in handy in all sorts of larger contexts, like international relations (“Israel and Palestine, if you can’t share the Gaza Strip I’m taking it away from both of you!”), industrial pollution (“BP, clean up that oil spill NOW!”), or political gridlock (“Congress, you’re in time out – with NO SNACKS – until you get something accomplished!”). And of course it didn’t surprise me that when we started seeing progress in solving the government shut-down, there were women from both parties leading the way.
Mind you, I’m not claiming female superiority, just pointing out that in general, mothers have learned to deal with everything from recalcitant toddlers who throw tantrums in grocery stores to sullen teenagers who swear we are ruining their lives. So a) we don’t sweat the small stuff, and b) we know how to handle bad behavior. Which makes it pretty clear that there is no one with those maternal skills advising Rand Paul.
For starters, a woman would remind him that tons of people have survived being accused of plagiarism – and it isn’t an attack on their personal character, just pointing out a fact. But to hear Senator Paul tell it, he is the victim of a character assassination by liberal ‘haters and hackers’ who are ‘spreading hate on me.’ Moms would tell him to stop over-reacting. (And my mom, the retired English teacher, would tell him to stop using silly cliches that don’t make sense.)
Moms would also advise him to admit his mistake gracefully, and to issue a genuine apology. Like we tell our kids, saying “I’m sorry, but it’s HIS fault” does not count. Neither does claiming that everyone is picking on you because you didn’t footnote your speeches.
Finally, a modern-day mom would remind Senator Paul that the Internet gives everyone instant access to, and records of, anything you put out there. So be careful about what photos from that crazy frat party you post on Facebook or what drunk texts you send to old flames (or what types of incriminating photos you text when you’re running for public office, Mr. Weiner . . . ) Which means if you lift entire paragraphs from Wikipedia, you really can’t deny it when you get caught.
Lacking such maternal wisdom, Rand Paul has not handled this fairly minor crisis very well, which isn’t great for his Presidential aspirations – but it’s been great for humorists! (And like I always advise my kids, teasing is mean most of the time, but if you’re a public figure who behaves in a ridiculous fashion, you’re fair game!)
Every generation seems to experience a couple of epic historic moments that define them – we have ‘The Greatest Generation’ with their memories of World War Two, former ‘flower children’ who remember The Summer of Love (or at least did some indiscriminate making-out that year), and so on. I’m on the younger side of Baby Boomers – I was 10 in 1969, so the only real hippie experience I had was embroidering flowers on my bellbottom jeans and writing earnest but dreadful poetry with lines like “the earth was meant for love, not pollution.”
Usually these landmark moments are pretty serious, even tragic, like assassinations or weather-related disasters. And occasionally, they can be celebrations of the human spirit, like the first moonwalk, the falling of the Berlin Wall, or the record number of babies born 9 months after major power outages. But only rarely do we find a transformational, epic moment that has nothing sad about it, nothing triumphant, but just pure fun – in fact, up until recently, the only examples I could think of were pop culture silliness, like pet rocks, the Macarena, or Gangnam Style.
However, due to a calendar quirk, this month will be the first time since 1888 that Chanukah and Thanksgiving have overlapped. And it won’t happen again for over 77,000 years. (Which is how long I know many people hope it will be until the Macarena comes back.) So naturally, people are jumping on it as an opportunity to celebrate, to develop fun hybrid recipies (sweet potato latkes with melted marshmallows . . . don’t think about it too much), and of course to find the marketing angle. Someone has already trademarked “Thanksgivukkah,” and you can buy Thanksgivukkah-themed cards, t-shirts, and even a ‘menurkey’ (a menorah in the shape of a turkey).
Even though this would seem to be a completely apolitical moment of joy, in today’s bitter partisan climate I must admit I was expecting some pushback from the far right who keep insisting that our founding fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation, so I thought they’d be horrified that a holiday celebrating American history would be combined with a non-Christian observance. But so far the only objection has come from comedian Stephen Colbert (who complained that the war on Christmas is now going after Thanksgiving). So we can celebrate without reservation!
It’s always astounding when two closely related things turn out to be complete opposites. Like siblings who have totally different body types, books with matching bindings but one is Jane Austen and the other is Judith Krantz, or the time my father took his first bite into an avocado slice, not knowing what it was but assuming it was some sort of cucumber.
This same-but-opposite premise has been the basis of numerous stories, from The Prince & The Pauper to Hannah Montana, but perhaps the best-known example was the classic Patty Duke Show, where the teen actress played identical cousins with vastly different backgrounds and tastes. (Yes, I know, there is no such thing as “identical cousins” and we all know it was Patty playing both roles, although if you’ve read her autobiography you know her real name was Anna, her managers manipulated her and she felt like a manufactured product, so she was playing an actress playing 2 different cousins, which is a meta-meta-façade.) (Sort of like the irony of Debbie Reynold’s role in Singin’ In The Rain, where her character was dubbing the Lena Lamont’s lines in the movie but the producers thought Reynolds sounded too cutesy so they had her lines dubbed by Jean Hagen, the actress playing Lena Lamont . . . but I digress . . . )
Anyway, The Patty Duke Show’s iconic theme song has come to symbolize any zany combination of opposites, or at least it has to those of us old enough to remember the show. (My husband is several years younger than I am, so when I mentioned the song to him, he thought I was referring to “Sisters, Sisters” from White Christmas.) (My husband also had to be informed that Paul McCartney, of whom he is a huge fan, actually played in a successful band before Wings . . . . ) So I thought it would be an appropriate way to sum up the vastly different-yet-similar viewpoints in Washington D. C. (Spoiler alert – I’m not referring to the Democrats vs. the Republicans . . .)
Right now the best hope for any solution to the Congressional stalemates over both the government shutdown and the debt ceiling seems to be a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Susan Collins and involving several other senators, mostly women. Which doesn’t surprise me at all. Many, if not all, of these female senators are mothers, and once a woman has dealt with the range of challenges from toddler tantrums to sullen teenagers with body odor, she can handle anything.
Years ago, I would illustrate that theory by imagining a mom tackling the Middle East – “Israel and Palestinians, if you can’t find a way to share the occupied territories, neither of you can play with them.” But these days it feels like that conflict pales by comparison to Washington DC. So how would my motherhood experience help me deal with the issues that have led to governmental gridlock? Well, for starters, many Republicans have cited public image as a key factor, i.e. “We won’t be disrespected.” Moms have moved way past that concern, once they’ve had a preschooler in a shopping cart say something embarrassing and loud to a packed grocery store. (Most of my friends dealt with things like “Why is that lady so fat?” or “Why doesn’t that man have any hair?” My personal humiliation was when my 4-year-old son announced loudy, “Mommy, you know how you said babies happen when a daddy plants a seed in a mommy? How exactly does the seed get there?”) So it makes sense that there are no women chiming in about how important it is that they save face.
Another issue raised by Republicans is their fear that once Obamacare is the law of the land, we won’t be able to repeal it because Americans will become “addicted to the sugar,” in the immortal words of Ted Cruz. That wouldn’t bother any mom who has given up trying to get her kids to eat anything but pizza, nachos and Dr. Pepper. (Or in my case, that even extends to my husband, to whom I had to explain that a bowl of Froot Loops didn’t count as a serving of fruit.) Or there’s the concern that by raising the debt ceiling, the GOP will lose its chance to ‘teach Americans a lesson’ about fiscal prudence. Most moms of teenagers have given up trying to ‘teach lessons’ – logical consequences often work best when we don’t plan them (like when my 17-year-old forgot to set an alarm on the day before school started, when he planned to do all his summer reading, so he slept til 4 p.m. It was a new personal record for him, but he also learned his lesson – which was to ask me to doublecheck he was awake, so okay, he isn’t totally on his own yet . . . . but I digress.)
Perhaps the biggest problem right now is the inflated language on both sides, comparing each other to Nazis, terrorists, etc. Moms know that yelling and name-calling don’t work (as tempting as they are), and often humor can be the best response. Plus we know that when our kids are young, they learn best when things are set to music, like the ABCs or the names of the states in alphabetical order (anyone who ever had to learn the “Fifty Nifty” song knows what I mean – I can’t complete a crossword puzzle without singing that song!). So here’s some humor, set to music, to explain why it might not be such a good idea to let the radical fringe take control of a party. (As one op-ed columnist noted, of course there are extremists on both sides, but there aren’t any Occupy Wall Streeters or throwing-paint-at-fur-coat-wearers-activists in Congress . . . )
“Join The Tea Party and &%@! The Facts”
I’ve always prided myself on both keeping an open mind and having strong opinions – sure, it’s a tough balance, but as a former high school debater I still remember the skills we developed having to argue on both sides of any issue. And while I believe I’m in the right about most things, I have always tried to consider the opposite point of view.
Until now . . . the GOP antics about the debt ceiling and government funding have left me unable to comprehend how they can simultaneously argue that it’s already destroyed the economy and killed people while also insisting we have to stop it now before people get addicted to it. And don’t get me started on the congresspeople who have compared it to Naziism, the Fugitive Slave Act or a mass outbreak of cellulite in Hollywood. (Yes, I made up that last one but it makes just as much sense as the others!)
When I contemplated writing a song about the latest from the GOP, I started to worry that I might offend people. And yes, some of my best friends actually ARE Republicans. Of course, I’m in the San Francisco area, so Republicans here tend to be pretty moderate, particularly about social issues like marriage equality, medical marijuana, and reproductive choice. (One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a woman telling her friend about her last date: “He says he’s a fiscal conservative and a social liberal – that means he’s cheap and he sleeps around!” – but I do believe my friends who describe themself the same way . . . )
However, when the subject of politics came up, a friend of mine said, “I’m a registered Republican, and I’m thoroughly disgusted with my party these days!,” and I don’t think she’s alone. So if you look at it that way, making fun of the GOP actually IS bi-partisan . . . .
“The GOP Says No!”