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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

At Some Point in Here I Review Kings in Disguise

We recently celebrated Labor Day again. Seems like we do this every year. These days it's celebrated kind of as a last hurrah of summer. My family and I threw a football around the park and I played a round of disc golf by myself because I don't have friends.

The park was full of revelers whose favorite past-time was, as far as I could tell, plopping a blanket down right in the middle of someone else's activity and then complaining about it. Also barbecuing.

It's not really uncommon in American culture to forget the reason behind a holiday. I mean, people celebrate Christmas without acknowledging its true meaning: the pagan worship of nature gods by bringing living trees into our homes and hanging baubles from them. I swear, the next time someone wishes me a "happy holiday" I'm going to shove mistletoe into their mouths and scream at them. "Don't you know that mistletoe aided Loki in his killing of Balder in the Norse Mythology! Remember Sol Invictus, the pagan god whose birthday we've celebrated on this day for thousands of years. Do not forget Odin, the All-Father, also known as Sinterklaas, or his black-faced minions will report it to his attending ravens, Huginn and Muninn. The results will not be pleasant I can tell you." Then I'll pay for my goods with my phone like they do in TV commercials.

We don't forget the true meaning of Labor Day, though. On that day when George Washington and Abraham Lincoln stood back to back with their semi-automatic assault muskets and singlehandedly fended off the entirety of the Muslim nation with only their wits and several hundred bunker buster bombs. To celebrate this victory, they emptied the nation of all immigrants (housekeeping and child-raising staff excluded) and ceremoniously (and literally) wiped their presidential unmentionables with the tax code. Finally, John Adams flew in on an F-16 and with a few surgical hellfire missile shots, managed to turn the Statue of Liberty around, her back then facing the crowd of dirty freeloaders looking for a free ride on Uncle Sam's 4-wheeler.
This is why we celebrate Labor Day with lines of American flags up and down the street. F you, socialism, the flags seem to say. In places where they are not arranged to literally say that, I mean, as outlined in the Flag Code. We call these places Blue States. And that's the last we'll say about them. On that day we celebrate Freedom. And Capitalism. And certainly not government intervention of any kind (unless it's enforcement of the aforementioned Flag Code.)

Wait, I say, my finger to my ear as if my staff is informing me of a new development. This just in, guys, Labor Day is actually a celebration of... a UNION RALLY?

Why, according to these generally agreed upon historical events, Labor Day came about in response to a labor union rally turned riot. A bomb was thrown into a crowd of police officers, who then fired into a crowd of union workers protesting the police killing of protestors the day before.

Listen. This is a gnarly story. Seven police officers died. While it probably doesn't justify firing guns willy-nilly into a crowd of innocent people, it's also impossible to understand people's decisions when there are explosions happening. It probably doesn't justify the general unrest that followed regarding foreign-born workers. Or the fact that eight people were arrested with no evidence, all of whom were sentenced to life, and four of whom were hung. Of the remaining, one committed suicide and the other three were pardoned seven years later (see the no evidence part of this paragraph.)

After this day, known as the Haymarket Affair of 1886 (we called massacres something different back then, as if they were CBS dramas that immediately follow football, prompting parents to rush to the remote in order to turn off the TV before the tawdry opening scene), May 1 was celebrated by reds, commies, and pinkos as International Worker's Day.

Grover Cleveland, in order to create a holiday without as much baggage, dictated that the national holiday be celebrated on September 7 and we've fired up the BBQs, bought stuff, and didn't wear white ever since. Luckily this is the only holiday I can think of where the original meaning was intentionally obfuscated in order to create a sanitary version that everyone can feel good about.

We were living at Prince Edward, in Virginia, and master had just purchased his hogs for the winter, for which he was unable to pay in full. To escape from his embarrassment it was necessary to sell one of the slaves. Little Joe, the son of the cook, was selected as the victim. His mother was ordered to dress him up in his Sunday clothes, and send him to the house. He came in with a bright face, was placed in the scales, and was sold, like the hogs, at so much per pound. His mother was kept in ignorance of the transaction, but her suspicions were aroused. When her son started for Petersburgh in the wagon, the truth began to dawn upon her mind, and she pleaded piteously that her boy should not be taken from her; but master quieted her by telling her that he was simply going to town with the wagon, and would be back in the morning. I'm surprised to keep coming across adults who don't realize that history is filled with ugliness. Now, they say, the world is in the worst state it has ever been in. Oh my gosh, you guys, this is getting so old. I don't even know how to respond anymore. Is it worse than when humans owned other humans and separated families in order to pay for hogs?
- 30 Years a Slave, Elizabeth Keckley 
 Is it worse than World War I?
It was 9 a.m. and the so-called trench was full of corpses and all sorts of equipment. We stood and sat on bodies as if they were stones or logs of wood. Nobody worried if one had its head stuck through or torn off, or a third had gory bones sticking out through its torn coat. And outside the trench one could see them lying in every kind of position. There was one quite young little chap, a Frenchman, sitting in a shell-hole, with his rifle on his arm and his head bent forward, but he was holding his hands as if to protect himself, in front of his chest in which there was a deep bayonet wound. And so they lay, in all their different positions, mostly Frenchman, with their heads battered in by blows from mallets and even spades, and all around rifles, equipment of all kinds and any number of kepis. The 154th had fought like furies in their attack, to revenge themselves for the shellfire. - German Students' War Letters, August Hope
What about in 1922 when Southern Democrats filibustered in order to stop an anti-lynching bill? A quick search for "Native American Massacre" on Wikipedia reveals 51 articles about individual massacres. FIFTY-ONE TIMES Americans shot unarmed groups of men, women and children. How about when we had to go outside to potty? Or when the best video games we had were Atari?

Mormons today wring their hands that they get made fun of on social media for opposing gay marriage, when in 1838 the Governor of Missouri passed a law declaring war on and asking for the "extermination" of Mormons. Is it better now? Mitt Romney thinks so!

Yeah, there are horrible things happening now. In Syria it's bad. In North Korea it's bad. Heck. In Detroit, it's bad. In Utah? It is not bad. Oh, Utah, you are so picked on. Are you picked on, Utah? Oooh, maybe you have to bake a cake for someone whose wedding you don't approve of? What, are they serving coffee at this wedding? Is it alcohol? Poor Utah. Did a landowner tell you that you can't drive your ATV somewhere because of a little thing like evidence of civilizations that have lasted over 2,000 years? I guess that leaves just a jillion other acres where you can do whatever you want. BOO-HOO, UTAH. I have a hard time sobbing for you and your persecution complex when your capital has the most plastic surgeons per capita of any city in the country. We have 6 for every 100,000 people. That's more than New York City (4), Los Angeles (4), and Miami (5).

This leads me to believe that many Utahns are doing pretty well. Also, when we Utahns are being constantly warned against worldliness and the decaying world around us, maybe the call is coming from inside the house, if you know what I mean.
I know. I know that every time we have a Democrat in office it's a precursor to the end of the world. How could the world be so wicked to elect a president who allegedly wants to take from the rich and give to the poor. Why, that's immoral!

Sorry, I got off on a tangent. What I was talking about was Labor Day and workers. Did you know that the Great Depression was pretty ugly, too? The more I learn about it the more it blows me away. I don't feel like I need to review The Grapes of Wrath, but it's a pretty good book. Another good one that incorporates the Dust Bowl is The Worst Hard Time. Ouch, that book. You should read both of them because they are riveting, can't-put-down books that make the world look like a different place when you put them down. I had a several hour long recorded conversation with my grandpa (who at one point lived with his family in a boxcar) about it that I need to revisit. Also I remember The Journey of Natty Gann as being good but I was young and thought that boogers were pretty good, too.

My most recent depression dive is the classic graphic novel Kings in Disguise, by James Vance and Dan Burr. In it, young Freddie Bloch experiences a few really bad breaks in his life and ends up living the hobo life.
This is not the romanticized hobo life of campfires and beans in a can. It's the kind where other hobos are killers and also the not-hobos are killers. Freddie is just a kid, so he's partially oblivious to the world around him. He's helped along by Sam, who saves his life. Freddie repays the favor and they become friends. Hobo friends. Sam decides to help Freddie find his dad, who was last heard from heading to Detroit for work.

A focal point of the story is the Detroit riot at the Ford Factory, where four layed-off Ford employees demonstrated outside a factory and ended up being shot at. Four died at the scene, another died later, and 60 other demonstrators were hospitalized.
Originally written as a play by James Vance and illustrated in heartbreaking black and white by Dan Burr, Kings in Disguise portrays some rough living during a rough time. Can times be rough again? Sure. Is it likely? Not really.

Sure, if you google "another Great Depression" you're going to get a cavalcade of every Connie Conspiracy and Patrick Patriot blathering about the end of times. Also, it turns out, they want to sell you gold. Or books. Or gold books filled with freeze-dried food. Paranoia sells. Whether it's lunar eclipses, the Y2K bug, or Obama taking your guns. There's no better way to get money out of gullible American pocketbooks like a good old fashioned doomsday prediction.

Is it dumb to save up some money and food in case of trouble? No. This weekend we had zero dollars. Just poor as can be. And I made a pretty nice chili out of dried beans we had in number 10 cans and tomatoes and herbs from our garden. Our lives are filled with little disasters. We pay for health, car, and home insurance just in case. Then we go on with our lives as if we won't need them.

Each day the great blackjack dealer in the sky says to us, "Place your bets, gentlemen," and we do. Some of us bet on calamity. We burrow into our basements with ammunition and dry food and prophecies of doom and gloom. We hoard our resources and we dare our neighbors who we have previously been told that we are to love as ourselves to even try to come and get them as we polish our guns. In essence, we spend all of our free time soaking up resources and give nothing back. It's us against the world and what has the world ever done for us?

Those guys I can take or leave. I like the optimists. The ones who bet on the future. I cried three times watching Inside Out. A Pixar movie takes somewhere between four and seven years to make and costs from $175 to $245 million to make. The company employs around 1,200 people. That's a pretty steep bet. Of course, it made almost a billion dollars back and taught kids that their emotions are not their enemies. That growing up has some sad in it but that the sad can actually be pretty important. It said that it's not wrong to be down in the dumps sometimes but overall there are lots of exciting things in the world.

Great people make great things. They invent computers and smart phones. The build massive bridges. They create theme parks, and gorgeous religious buildings. They save and rehabilitate national parks. They spend their lives protecting endangered species, or restoring rivers, or planting trees. There is no bolder bet on the future than planting a tree. People who bet on the future travel to Haiti to help rebuild a broken city. They create vaccines. They paddle around the flooded streets of New Orleans to pull elderly people off of their roofs. They take seven bullets while blocking a gunman at a university. They do this because they don't know if we'll survive as a society, but they sure hope so
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I know that a lot of people who read this blog aren't religious, but I often hear religion as a justification for pessimism. I'm sorry. I just don't buy it. 
Because Christ’s eyes were unfailingly fixed on the future, He could endure all that was required of Him, suffer as no man can suffer except it be “unto death,” as King Benjamin said, look upon the wreckage of individual lives and the promises of ancient Israel lying in ruins around Him and still say then and now, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” How could He do this? How could He believe it? Because He knows that for the faithful, things will be made right soon enough. He is a King; He speaks for the crown; He knows what can be promised. He knows that “the Lord … will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. … For the needy shall not alway[s] be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.” He knows that “the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” He knows that “the Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.” -An High Priest of Good Things to Come, Jeffrey R. Holland
We bet on the future in spite of warnings of economic collapse, or a great earthquake, or wars or rumors of wars. We do it because betting on there being a future is better than betting on there being nothing. It feels better. It's healthier. It makes the world a little bit better of a place. And if we look at our history as a species, we tend to figure things out.