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Really? Maybe not...

America is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. But one thing is for sure, it seems as if everyone has an opinion about America. How great America is or how bad it can be. It all comes down to the problem with America. What is the problem with America?

Well, as a start, part of the question relates to a little thing called dependency. They are the big guys on the block. Pretty much “the dude”. They sneeze and we catch a cold. And we are a bit like the media – we build them up and then want to shoot them down when given half a chance. Why? Because we can’t live without them. We are dependent on them. And that makes us pissed and jealous. But that’s not the problem with America.

The simple answer is that we know that the problems of the world won’t be solved without America. Whether we want peace or the end of poverty or someone to deal with global warming or a fairer world trade regime – it doesn’t mean jack shit if you don’t have America inside the tent. Oh we can ask the Europeans to do their bit or ask African leaders to be a bit more responsible or get the Chinese cut their own carbon footprint. The reality is that none of that will work if America doesn’t come and play. It’s always better to have them in the tent pissing out than having them piss on our little parade.

We can’t solve it or deal with it at a global scale without America. That’s part of the problem. But that isn’t the problem with America.

Part of the problem is that sometimes we don’t like the answer we get from big brother America. Want a global legal system dealing with global crime? Sounds like a good idea. But a bit toothless because America refuses to sign on the dotted line. Want to stop landmines from blowing kids up after a war? Great! Get an international treaty to deal with that. But we know it will continue to give the bad guys a cop-out as long as America refuses to support it. Want to deal with those computers being dumped in Africa and the kids inhaling the fumes of burning computers for copper? Let’s all agree to keep our electronic shit at home then. Sounds like a great idea. But pretty useless because America doesn’t support the idea. That’s a problem. Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want. And we don’t like it.

Sometimes it just looks like America is in it for themselves. Thinking about what is best for them. What America needs. Instead of thinking of what we need. But that is not the problem with America. That’s just a problem with those darn humans.

Tell me. What do you want from life? Have you noticed how that involves you? Most answers are about the self. The human aspect. Sometimes it’s materialistic things we want – a bigger car and a bigger house and a  bigger telly and more bigger things. Supersize my life. But even those nice warm fuzzy answers are all about the me inside. A peaceful life and some love. You are thinking of you. And your only interest in the outside is how they might impact on your life.

When your government decides to help those on the outside. Do you bitch and remind them of the problems at home? Do you constantly try to tell your government how to make the world a better place or just your little world? I don’t mean the one off donation or being pissed at your government not doing more about Zimbabwe. We all have our moments of madness. Most of the time it’s just me-me-me isn’t it? Oh you cloak it in nice fuzzy language and make as if it is for the whole world. But it’s really about what is good for you and your country in most cases. I haven’t seen it any other way. I don’t judge this. I’m not saying it is wrong. I’m just saying…

Oh I know there are groups out there doing work on a global scale. Mostly crap like global religious fanatics. But I am talking about the good stuff. Making the world a better place. Even when working on these issues you think of yourself and your way and not the others and their way. Or try to find an “our way”. Oxfam? Love them to bits but over 90% of senior management in the UK was British. Sorry, that’s not really global. It’s just colonialism cloaked in goodness. Like the original one. Greenpeace? The luxury of fighting for whales while people die of hunger. None of these people are bad. They are just in it for themselves. But cloaked in goodness and all things nice.

Now what is wrong with that? What is the problem with that?

What is the problem with us?

What is the problem with America?

Maybe we are asking the wrong question here. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking what the problem is with America. Maybe the question should be what’s the problem with us.

Maybe the problem with America is that they are just a little bit too much like us. Americans are just a tad too much like me and you. Just your average people trying to live a decent life. Their life. Maybe that is the problem. Maybe the problem is that America is in all of us. America is us. And we are America.

Yes, the problem with America is us. You, me and our American friends. All of us. That’s the problem.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that once we realize we are all one then we start looking after ourselves.

All of us.

Us Americans.

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This is a protest!

This is a protest!

It’s sad really. The US trade unions protesting. I’ve been watching them all over the US lately. Protesting here and protesting there. And they make me want to cry. No! Not the reason for their protests. But the way they protest. It’s sad really.

It always starts with some guy shouting into a mike or loudspeaker. It’s not a pretty sound. You ever watched Apocolypse Now? You know that scene where the two sides are just shooting away at each other with flares going off everywhere? And this guy keeps on shouting through the speakers at the American soldiers. Telling them to give up? Well, that’s what these US trade union “announcers” sound like. The guy from Apocalypse Now used it as a form of torture. And so does the trade union guys. I think it might be banned under the Geneva Convention. They can count their lucky stars that the US doesn’t support the Geneva Convention. Mmm. Makes me think that Dick and Bush should have recorded these trade unionists and used it at Guantanamo? Thank god the trade unions never leaned towards the right. That might have been a bit ugly. The horror… (Those who did watch Apocalypse Now will get the pun…)

Now for another movie scene and the trade unions. You ever seen Midnight Express? The scene where the prisoners all walk in a circle the whole time? Like zombies? Well, there goes the US trade unions. Walking in circles the whole time while protesting. WTF? Is that in some handbook somewhere that I missed? Walk in a little circle and hypnotize the “bosses”? Or is it just part of the regulatory limitations placed on trade union activities in the US? I don’t care what the reason or reasons might be. It’s sad. Really sad. And the worst part is that it turned me into a zombie while I watched them go in a circle over and over again. And again… And again… Yawn… I need a nap. Protest to bore you to death.

And where are the people? You can’t really call ten people a protest. Hell, it isn’t even enough people to make a good old English queue. You need more people to make a statement. Any group of people who number less than a sports team is really just a bunch of buddies hanging out. Not a protest. Hell. My family will protest en mass if you want to call your sorry attempt a protest. And we will have more people than the average US trade union protest. And no screeching speakers either…

Now Souf Afrikans! We know how to protest. We have it in our blood. And in our bones. It’s who we are.

We gather in our thousands. Because it is like a street party! Have fun, bring the kids. Bring something to eat. And drink! It’s like a bring-‘n-braai (potluck).

And we dance. Oh boy, do we dance! Come on! It’s a party right? No party is complete without a bit of a dance.

Okay, it’s not a dance as you know it. It’s a toyi-toyi. And you sh*t yourself if you are on the other side! It’s got rhythm. It’s got song. It’s got chanting. It’s got snappy slogans. Viva! Amandla! Hell yeah! None of this Vietnam guy-on-the-speakers screeching. Nope. Real vibrancy. Real threat. Real protest.

And it’s got beat. Our workers have beat.

And if you face it? You know you’re beat.

You think we will be stopped by some second rate law? Haha! We have our ways and means. We know how to get around it.

Way back in the days when we took to the streets without much of a reason… Anything for a party. Anyway. We have this law in Souf Efrika that says you’re not allowed to have a sit-in. You know, not allowed to take over a building and “sit in”. We went this way and that way. We had to find a way to occupy their buildings. It was the only way to get our point across… And… hum… stop them from doing anything.

Got it! Let’s work on the principle that no one in Souf Efrika knows all 11 of our official languages. And that the boere in charge will only know Afrikaans and maybe a hint of Ingils

We created the Siyalala. WTF? Exactly. That was what we hoped they would think. Wait… Let me tell you a bit about why we were protesting. Apart from the reason to party!

The target was a major clothing retailer in South Africa – Mr Price. Blah blah blah. I won’t bore you with all the details. But it we wanted them to sign a document where they supported an anti customs fraud initiative. But they refused. Why? They didn’t say  but we thought we knew why. We caught a few containers in the Maputo port (Mozambique) that already had the Mr Price tags hanging on them. What’s the problem? The clothes were meant to have “added value” in Souf Efrika for them to get the tax break. Meaning that some of the “value” of the garments must be added in Souf Efrika. Needless to say, but no value was added if the Mr Price tags already hung on the clothes in a foreign port…

So we created the Siyalala to target them and those supporting them – the banks. A Siyalala was another piece of genius from old Ebrahim Patel. Man, I loved working with him and learning from him. He always found a way. And this time it was the Siyalala.

We gave them notice of our protest through something called a Section 77 – the Souf Efrikan notification of mass action. Wait, let me see if I still have that…

I’m back – here it is. Word for word:

____________________________

Annexure 2: Nature of Protest

The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union intend initiating socio-economic protest action against the Mr Price Group, associated operations and the banking sector in the following ways:

  1. Mass rallies outside any Mr Price Group associated stores and banks in general. These include those situated in malls and stand-alone stores.
  2. Placard demonstrations at targeted retail warehouses, retail company offices, distribution points and any other commercial centre associated with the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector.
  3. Solidarity campaigns aimed at the media, shareholders, employees and any organisation or individual sponsored or in the employment of the Mr Price Group, any of the Mr Price Group associated operations and/or banking sector.
  4. Picketing outside targeted Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking properties or properties linked to any of these companies.
  5. Demonstrations at events sponsored by the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector
  6. Targeted contact with customers of the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector informing them of the reasons for the protest action.
  7. Call for consumer boycotts of the Mr Price Group, associated operations and banking sector through general mass gatherings and protest campaign activities.
  8. Call on financial sector to discontinue supply financial services to the Mr Price Group and it’s associated operations.
  9. Siyalala’s at the Mr Price Group, associated operations and divisions and banks and bank properties during operating hours for the purpose of retarding and/or obstructing work in order to defend the socio-economic interests of workers.

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Notice hidden in number 9? Highlighted just for you? The Siyalala. The “lie in”.

Yes! If we weren’t allowed to “sit in” then we might just as well “lie in”. And we did! Well, everyone knows you need a good rest after a protest party. And what better way to rest than “lie in” for a little bit? Did I mention that Mr Price also sold pillows and blankets? Aah… Now that is much better. A good old “lie in” after spending much of the day partying protesting outside.

I miss a good protest. Us Souf Efrikans have got the worker beat. I think the unions over here have the workers beat.

Gotta go. It’s late. And I’ve been watching US trade unions protest. Yawn. They tire me out. I’m going for a Siyalala. See ya later.

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From the Loose Ends files…

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There is a war for Christmas. No, not WTF but a War For Christmas. It is being threatened each and every single day. Year after year. And it is getting worse. Much worse. It is time to take Christmas back. It’s time to join the War For Christmas.

No, I am not talking about Bill O’Effing-Reilly. This is NOT a call to join Bill and his War On Christmas. Sorry Bill, you’re a stupid prick and saying anything positive about anything remotely associated with you will never happen on this blog. This is a war against your war. You like War On Terror? I like War For Peace. Yours was a War In Error. So this is my war. My war against your pathetic (again) misinformed half-arsed stupidity-induced right-wing-nut fake-Christian war. This is my War For Christmas. I want it back. And you have no choice. I was right back when we fought over the War On Terror and I am right again this time. So suck it up baby.

I like Christmas. I don’t like Xmas. Looks crap and sounds crap. Even though it comes from the Greek way of spelling Christ – Χριστός. It’s all Greek to me. I like good old Christmas.

Christmas – Christ’s mass… Not about presents and crap. It’s about mass. Getting together. Sharing a bond. Being the family we are meant to be. It’s about Christ. And it is about celebrating our Pagan heritage.

Huh?

Come on, Christmas isn’t even His birthday. In fact, we don’t really know when He was really born.

Maybe you should learn to celebrate Him and what He stands for every day. Make every day a day of Christ. Hum… That will mean loving instead of hating. Tolerance instead of war. No thank you. That will not do. It’s just too damn difficult hey? Let’s pick a date and act like we believe for a day.

So why pick the 25th?

Convenience…

Typical of some Christians, they were just too lazy to find the actual facts and just started invading. They liberated the Pagans from their little holiday. A crusade to bring Christ to all Pagans. Almost like when we try to take oil bring democracy to everyone today.

But let’s quickly step back to Bill’s Big Bitch – his (fake) War On Christmas…

The “controversy” is about people bitching about others (read governments, media, retailers, advertising and “other people like liberal-socialist-radicals”) not acknowledging the Christmas holiday. They bitch because people call it the Holiday Season or Festive Season instead of Christmas. It somehow takes away from Christian holiday… It’s mostly an American thing. Thank God for America yet again fighting on the side of the right and righteous. (Rolling my eyes…) Oh, a few people in Canada and the UK also bitches but that is more because they are Bill’s Bitches.

Sometimes they even bitch because people buy so much crap during this “holiday season”. The economy trumping Christianity’s religious celebration. But that is really fake. In so many ways.

On a minor religious point… Why the heck do you want to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the first place? I just don’t get that. You celebrate the fact that God had to send His own Son down because you messed up so badly and sinned so much that He had to offer His own Son up just to save your sorry arse? Yeah… be real proud people. You should feel ashamed by the fact that He had to do this in the first place. He went to the cross because you messed up big time. No – BIG TIME. Rather celebrate when He had to leave because that was the single act that saved your sorry soul.

Anyway… This isn’t meant to be a sermon. (But did you hear my voice booming from the pulpit? And the choir singing in the background? Damn, I heard my voice vibrate like those Southern Ministers! Hallelujah! Now cough up and fill those collection boxes. I need a guitar for Christmas…)

Look, I don’t give a damn whether calling it Christmas offends a non-Christian. I’m not too PC in that way. Grow up and grow a pair. Bloody hell, so many of our week days are named after Pagan gods and celebrations. Tolerances means letting people celebrate their religious holidays. I like it. More presents and more food to eat. And, most importantly, more days to party with my mates who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist (and all other variations.) Party, party, party! Ha! The reason why I don’t like atheists is because they don’t have special party days. I’m easy that way – Call a party and I’m there. It’s called a free lunch. Who said we don’t have any?

Okay… Back to my rant.

It is a historical fact (ooh, I like facts…) that many of the “symbols” of  Christmas were taken from non-Christian traditions that pre-date the birth of Jesus – whenever that might have been. Decorating trees? Who did that? The wise men? And who kissed who under the mistletoe back in the manger? What? Were the shepherds gay? Holly wreaths? Was that one of the presents? And was it so cold they had to chuck a few more yule logs on the fire? Bet you that didn’t work too well. Christmas only recently “found” these WMD’s – Wreaths, Mistletoe & Decorations.

The season for a reason… Really…

The reason is to party and to get a guitar… Hum… I mean presents!

Like I said – Jesus wasn’t born on 25 December. Live with it. And I’ll get back to that just now-now. (A South African way of saying just now.)

I do have one major issue with those against calling it Christmas. Some of them also wants to force government to not make it a holiday anymore. Hey buddy… Piss off… Don’t touch the holiday or party. There will be some fisticuffs. African style. Woman! Bring me my spear and shield! Time to circle the ox-wagons. Our party and presents are threatened!

But when did all this crap about the War On Christmas start? The bloody Puritans again!

Yep, good old grumpy Cromwell wanted to remove all the WMD’s. Not a tree in sight. I think it was just because he didn’t get kissed under the mistletoe… And you might notice that the decorations stayed. And so did the presents, thank God. And this is when all this crap about Christmas started…

Old Cromwell and his grumpy elves struggled with getting the Christmas trees burned and the presents given to the church in monetary form. So guess what they did? Man, they were brilliant. They did the classic Trojan trick. They took it over from the inside. They just picked this date to celebrate  the birth of Christ. This was when all the crap started. When Puritans were less than pure with the truth. Because we know Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th. But who cares? It’s not as if the churches haven’t pulled a few tricks for dough before right? And they still keep on doing it today…

But wait – how about those trees hey? You know where this comes from? “For the customs of the peoples are false: a tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an ax by the hands of an artisan. People deck it with silver and gold they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.” Hey? Jeremiah 10:3-4. Damn. I guess that’s why we went with a fake plastic tree. Biblical speaking I am not sinning…

Actually, the early Protestant bitched a lot about Christmas. During the various Protestant reformations (more regular than the a Meryl Streep Oscar nomination), these Paganizing elements were a source of controversy. Some sects, I mean Puritans, rejected Christmas as an entirely Pagan holiday. Others rejected certain aspects of Christmas as Paganizing, but wanted to retain the “essence” of the holiday as a celebration of the Christ’s birth – even though it wasn’t on this day. It was a bit like the war in Iraq – bitching and fighting about something that never really existed.  But the fighting about Christmas has been going on ever since. And Bill has been bitching ever since.

But I want Christmas back. I want to call it Christmas just to piss people like O’Reilly off. But this whole passing of presents and having a party at the end of the year started way back before they made up a date for Jesus to be born. It started with the winter solstice.

You know the winter solstice? It happens “when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer”. Actually, I have no clue what that means. And I have read Stephen Hawking a few times…. All I know is that it tends to happens some time between December 20 and December 23 each year in the northern hemisphere. And between June 20 and June 23 in the southern hemisphere. Yeah! Christmas in June in Africa! Take that Bill-O! I get presents twice a year! 

So what about the 25th of December then? Ha! winter solstice was established on the 25th by the Julian Calendar. But quickly banned by the Catholic Church as a Pagan practice. But it was too much of a good thing for them to pass up on a good party I guess. They banned the celebration party of the sun and made one up for the Son. And kept  much of the folklore and traditions of local Pagan festivals. So today, the old festivals such as Jul, Коледа and Karácsony, are still celebrated in many parts of Europe (Pagans, Bill! Pagans!), but the Christian Nativity is now offered as the meaning behind the holiday.

How about that Yule hey? You know that Yule or Yule-tide was a German midwinter festival about a sacrificial feast that was absorbed into Christmas like I do with a meat pie? Or a Yule log…

Actually, it came from a German dude called Odin who used to fly high in the sky on his way to a hunting party. Big beard and everything. He didn’t have any Rudolphs pulling his wagin though. No good for a hunting party. He had an eight-legged horse pulling him across the sky. Oh, and he gave the kids candy if they left some straw, carrots and sugar for his Chernobyl horse. Guess where they used to put it? In their boots next to the fireplace… Now swap that for a pair of old stinky socks hanging in front of the fireplace and you get…

Really, those early Christians were even lazier than the current bunch of Bible-bashers calling themselves the religious wing-nuts.

And how about the fat dude in the red suite?

Father Christmas, the dude I grew up with and who is older than Santa Claus, was first recorded in the 15th century, but was seen as a bit of a party animal who created havoc, got drunk and acted like a stupid wino. Ha! It seems as if some of our family members still celebrate this way – creating havoc, drinking too much and acting like a stupid wino. Some things just never change. The French Père Noëlwas also a bit of a raving and raging drunk; as was the Italian Babbo Natale. But that might just be the Italians being Italian. Wearing funny clothes, getting pissed and making a lot of noise.

The best one comes from La Befana though. She was also a character during Christmas and was the bringer of gifts. Here is the Pagan clincher though. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way. I think she was hanging out with old Father Christmas for too long… Too much drinking and partying if you ask me. Now, she brings gifts to all children. I guess she has been trying to suck up for the last 2,000 odd years…

Actually, Father Christmas is so Pagan that even calling him old comes from people bitching about the Church trying to take him away. He is “old” because of the antiquity of the old parties, which its defenders saw as a good old Christian custom that should be kept. So “old Christmas” was given a voice to protest the Church trying to kill him off. And they made him jolly just to piss off the Pope a bit more I guess. The opposite of the stern Pope? A pissed Father Christmas!

But President Bush would be happy to know that the old drunk has different names over in the liberated countries as well. Afghanistan calls him Baba Chaghaloo – my personal favourite because it sounds so funny when you are jolly yourself at Christmas. Baba Chaghaloo sounds like a drink, doesn’t it?

But Iran and Iraq is more in line with America. They both call him Baba Noel. Wonder if they’ve checked for WMD’s there? It might be under the red outfit. Hidden as a false fat stomach. Or under the Christmas tree? Or in that big bag he carries on his back! Quick Bill-O! I found the WMD’s!

I almost forgot another good one. You know that Saint Nicholas was the Christian inspiration for Santa Claus? He is a Greek Christian bishop who lived in the 4th-century. (Actually, the part he comes from is part of Turkey today.) He didn’t drink as much as his other European fictional counterparts, but he gave gifts to the poor. Creepy though as he gave more gifts to young girls… But he had the robe and beard to make him at least look a bit like Santa I guess. Here is the clincher for me. Old Saint Nick is also the patron saint for many diverse groups. Including… Pawnbrokers! For those unwanted presents! (Or thanks to the current economic climate?)

Sadly he is also the patron saint for both dope heads and corrupt bureaucrats. Sorry, I mean of Amsterdam and Moscow…

So now you know a bit more about Christmas. And that is why I want it back!

This is my War For Christmas. More drinking like Father Christmas and acting like a jerk afterwards. More handing out gifts like old Saint Nicholas. More trees from the winter solstice feasts. And more Yule logs from the Germans please. Did I mention the drinking and partying bit already? So it’s drink, trees, mistletoe, drinking, yule logs, trees and more drinking. Just like Father Christmas would like it.

Let’s keep on calling it Christmas. We’ll steal the name just the way they stole the party. But for the real reasons. The original paty time. Drinking and presents and a bit more drinking – and the family hanging out together. That’s authentic. That’s the real deal. 

Piss of Bitching Bill. Your War On Christmas is a joke bigger than you. And Father Christmas is funnier than you. And Odin will whip your backside with his one hand tied to his horse.

I’m taking Christmas back. Now where is my beer and guitar?

Actually, I want Odin back. I want those times back when we can sit around a fire and just be happy with each other. No pressure to shop or entertain or listen to Bill-O. He can have “Merry Christmas”. I just want to use the time to play with the kids in the snow, have some malt wine with my wife, stand around a fire with my friends – share good times and brag about the scars from our bad times. Just us and Odin. Laid back and not worrying about what to buy or what to call it. Call it what you want. Bill-O, you can have it. What you can’t have is the family, the friends, the fun, the love, the peace, the memories or the good times. That is mine. That is ours.

My War For Christmas. It’s not a war to call it Christmas. It’s not a war to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. It’s not a war for presents. Those are all fake. Stolen from the good times. Stolen to be corrupted by people for their own personal gain. Whether they are trying to sell you the latest Elmo or the newest Jesus.

My War For Christmas. It’s a war for us. It’s a war for ubuntu. It’s a war for peace, love and happiness.

And it is ours. Take it and own it. It’s my present to you. Love and be loved. Reach out and make new friends. Sit back and relax your tired bones. Smile and we will smile with you. Be with each other the way your always hope you could be. This Christmas… Just be what you want to be. Celebrate what you want to celebrate. Just remember to make memories and make peace with yourself and the world around you. Make memories you can believe in. Make you.

Merry Christmas everyone.

africamerrychristmas

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Note: And this last one is just for Bill-O. One of my favorite Christmas song ever. By The Pogues – Fairytale of New York…

This post was inspired by Monroe Anderson (I still can’t believe that he reads my blog. I am not worth the crossing of his t’s. He is the man.)

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The first shop I went to when we landed here in the US two years ago was a convenience store just down the road from us. It’s called Honey Farms. Just your run-of-the-mill convenience store like a 7-Eleven. Nothing much. Bread, milk, cigarettes, Coke and chocolates. Everything I need to get through the day if pushed. That’s where I met them. The people working at Honey Farms.

The first guy I met was this old guy that must been at least 65 in the shade. But still in excellent shape. He cycles to work and back. We just called him ‘the old guy’. My lovely wife knew who I was talking about whenever I told her I had a chat with the old guy at Honey Farms. He was the first American I had a just a normal general chat with. Good guy. Exceptionally good guy.

It started off like any normal chat for us foreigners over here in smaller towns. The accent. He loved my wife’s accent. Called it “the Queen’s English”. Well, she does have a pretty good English accent even though she is South African. He made her talk just so he could listen to her accent. And then he will just be like a little kid and be all giddy. And tell all the other customers to listen to her speak. Yes, I think he had a bit of a crush on her.

I didn’t get the same treatment. But then, my accent is a bit more harsh. Less exotic, more farmer. But what can you do? We did have many good chats – me and the old guy from Honey Farms. Anything really – and he was as funny as hell.

Whenever I bought my cigarettes he would offer me “free” matches. And he used to say that they are so committed to customer service that they are happy to replace the matches if I am unhappy with them at any time. Yes, they were free to start off with.

Or the time I walked in and asked if they had dish washing liquid or tablets for the dishwasher. He made a huge scene claiming that they have the best dishwasher liquid in the whole of downtown Natick – if not in greater downtown Natick. (You can’t buy or find it anywhere else in downtown Natick.) He went to tell me how good this dishwasher liquid is. His wife swears by it. And he has never had a customer come back to say it didn’t do the job. With a smile I asked him if he has ever used it. He shook his head and said no. Never used the stuff. He still washes his dishes by hand. And then laughed a bit more. Both of us.

Yeah, he was a funny guy. Always something funny to say or a smart comment to make me leave with a smile.

But it always bugged me. Why is he still working when he should be taking it easy? When he should be retired. So I asked him. I asked him why is he still working. And he stared at me for a little while. And then just uttered a simple little concept…

“healthcare…”

“Why healthcare”, I asked. Simple, he needs to be covered if something happens to him or his wife. Especially in their old age. And he needs the extra money to pay for it. As security for when they really need it. The government will help but it might not be enough. In his old age he has to worry about that. He never had to worry about it when he was covered when he was young and healthy and looked after.

He also told me that he got his daughter a job at Honey Farms. But that he had to make her stop working there and found her another job. He was worried about her safety. When she worked the late shift. When some of the rougher and drunker guys came around. Nothing ever happened. But it wasn’t good for her to be exposed. It was good enough for the old man, but not good enough for his daughter.

He left my Honey Farms a few months back. He got a better offer to actually run a Honey Farms in the town next to ours. We still walk into each other now and again. And we still have our chats then. He still makes me laugh. And he still cycles to work.

Actually, he is doing more than that. One of the many discussions we had was about American addiction to cars. Hell, people will drive 200 yards to Honey Farms to buy their stuff. But more than that, single drivers keep on driving to work and back or to downtown Natick on a beautiful day when they could be walking. It bugged him. And he decided to do something about it. A campaign. A campaign to get Natick people to cycle more.

This old man decided to do it on his own. He got a plan together that we spoke about a few times. And he took it to the local authorities to get their backing. And convinced them to support him. Not with money. But with communications – posters, notices, free bicycles etc. And off he went. His “cycle more” campaign. Good for traffic and good for your health. This old man that should be retired did it because it bugged him. Never made a cent out of it. It was all about getting people out of their cars and start cycling when they go to downtown Natick. Yep, he was an activist in his own way.

I really liked him. Still do.

He is America for me. Him and the other people I have met at Honey Farms. The other slightly less old guy who knows everything anybody ever wants to know about the history of coins – American coins. Or the gay middle aged woman who suffers from depression. Or the woman whose kids always come to visit her when she works the late shift on a weekend. Or the young black kid from the wrong side of Natick that is taking extra jobs to stay out of trouble and build himself a future. All of them. They have been America to me. Proud. Strong. Easy to talk to. Friendly as hell.

Yes, they might not know as much of the world as what the world knows of them, but these people are good decent people that I would be happy to call my own. I can see in their eyes why America is great. Because they are great people.

So why am I telling you this? Why is this even important? I’ll tell you why…

…McCain and taxes…

What?

Yep, McCain and taxes. McCain is attacking Obama for wanting to raise the taxes of the wealthiest of Americans. One key line of argument from McCain is that the top 1% of Americans will pay almost 35% of American taxes under the Obama plan. That just doesn’t sound right. That is just unfair. It isn’t just. Why should 1% pay so much of the taxes? Well… Because that same 1% also own almost 35% of America’s net worth. That’s why. Mr McCain.

If you own 35% then it makes perfect sense that 35% of the taxes will come from you. Easy economics. Not socialism. Just easy economics.

And before I forget. Just 10% of the population owns 71% of America’s wealth… I expect that 10% to pay 71% of the taxes…

I won’t even mention that “in a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable “alert” line used to warn governments”. I won’t go into that. Just saying that the distribution of wealth in America is beyond unfair. It ranks with the most unjust systems in the world…

Tell me why should the wealthiest not pay according to the share of wealth they have? Are they better than the old guy from Honey Farms? Do they mean more to America than the Honey Farms people? I don’t think that either group means more to America than the other. Or at least, I don’t believe that either group should mean more to America. CEO’s can be replaced as easily as the guy in Honey Farms. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. I work with CEO’s of some of the biggest American companies out there today. The biggest of the biggest. The best of the best. Make no mistake… I can count on my one hand how many of them are truly irreplaceable. And they generally earn a sh*tload of money. Way more than their counterparts from the rest of the world.

I get it that they earn more. I have no problem there. Maybe I have a problem with the extremes of what they earn, but I do get that they should earn a nice package to keep them in the job. But they are not more American than the old guy from Honey Farms. That much I know.

He has worked his backside off for this country. Never moaned. Never bitched. Never complained. When they ask him to serve he serves. When they ask him to sacrifice he sacrifices. He, and everyone else at Honey Farms, are the backbone of this country as much as what the CEO is. Without him there is no America. America is not a country of CEO’s. America is a country of Americans. And everyone should pay their share of being able to call themselves American. The old guy paid his dues. Through sweat and taxes. Even today in his old age. He kept that CEO in his job. Buying his stuff and protecting his rights. The CEO can afford to pay more taxes so that the old guy doesn’t have to work in his old age. Or that the woman suffering from depression can get good help even though she can’t afford it. She works her butt off. Each and every day. She doesn’t sit back and do nothing. She contributes. She pays taxes. According to what she can. Her share. Even though her share of the American wealth is nothing compared to the CEO. We can’t expect him to let it “trickle down”. It won’t. It never has. It’s a fallacy that Reagan tried to sell and we now know it doesn’t work. Mr CEO doesn’t buy from Honey Farms.

One more thing… Patriotism.

Conservative Republicans keep on saying that the American companies will take their business elsewhere if they don’t get the “breaks”. Can we then please question the patriotism of these companies? Who are they? Let’s all stop buying from them if they hate America so much. They made their money off the back of American sweat and American consumers. And now they want to leave? They made their American Dream come true through the hard work and money of other Americans. They made their American Dream off the back and sweat and hard earned cash of those Americans who defines the true American Dream – freedom, justice and liberty without the money attached. Let’s leave them alone if they don’t show the same commitment to America as the old guy from Honey Farms.

I like my old guy from Honey Farms. I like everyone who works at Honey Farms. They taught me about America. Not the CEO and his buddies that I have known for many years. They are also Americans. But they are not America. It was Honey Farms that made me realize what America is all about. The spirit. The belief. The patriotism. The people.

I earn more than the guy at Honey Farms. Way more. I don’t earn $250,000 p.a. (Not yet!) But I am willing to pay a little more to make sure that the old guy from Honey Farms can just ride his bicycle and not worry about the cost of his healthcare. He is America and I am willing to do what it takes to make that work. I am willing to pay my share according to the share I own and earn. That should be the American way.

You think I am going to climb into Sarah Palin? You betcha! Not! I’ll leave Palin with the letter I wrote her. I thought this was going to be all about Palin. But it wasn’t. This was all about Biden.

I haven’t seen much of him because of the love/hate affair the media has had with Palin. Biden has been left behind. But tonight I saw why Obama got him as Vice President. Because Biden is the right person to be Vice President.

He knows what he stands for. It is clear. You don’t have to agree with him. But what you saw was what you get.

He convinced me that Obama is the right guy for the job. Not because Biden said so. But because Biden is the person Obama picked to be his Vice President when (not if) he becomes President. It told me that Obama can see what he needs to help him become a great President. A true “maverick” who will whisper in his ear when he does not agree with him. A person who knows enough about bipartisan politics to create the change that Obama has as his vision.

What do I want from a Vice President?

I want a Vice President that will lead the conversation to justice and fairness. Someone who will vigorously debunk and fight every right wing conventional wisdom on the economy and wars that has trapped the US in the quicksand of stagnation. Who will not only fight like hell to make sure that America is living up to the grand ideals that made America great but also someone who knows what it takes to get there. A fighter who has fought from nothing to get where he/she is today.

I want a Vice President who not only talks about change and being a maverick, but who knows how to make the system in Washington work to create change. A Washington insider who can bring the change we believe in. But an insider who has always been on the outside. Someone who embodies the type of bipartisan and honesty and integrity that is needed in Washington.

I want a Vice President who knows that it isn’t easy to make difficult decisions. That knows it takes guts to fight against a war even when your own son is fighting in the war. Who loves the troops, but not the war. And that sometimes we have to compromise and change ourselves. Someone who knows that we can’t always be right and be willing to change ourselves. And who will do it because his/her country is more important than their own ego.

I want a Vice President who will help inspire people everywhere to be better than what we are today. No matter where they live – from Washington to Warsaw and from Boston to Bamako. Who will challenge each and every one of us to take on the difficult things we have run away from. And someone who will make us believe in hope instead of fear.

I want a Vice President who knows that he/she must represents the people of the United States of America, but must never forget the people of this world. Who will fight for every person to help make the world a better place for all of us. Someone who won’t stop at challenging corporate interests in the US, but everywhere in this world of ours as well. Who will make companies work with and for us. And help those who do and not those who don’t.

I want a Vice President who will make friends before making enemies. Someone who will stop the foreign policy madness of making friends with some dictators and fighting others. Who will make the United States of America a true beacon of hope and not a vehicle of fear. Who will bring hope to everyone no matter where they are by being just and honest. A beacon of light for those who wants to make their own country better.

That’s what I want in a Vice President. And so much more. But you get the idea.

Joe Biden showed me that he is that Vice President. And Obama showed me why he is the right President. Someone who made his first and most important decision as a Presidential nominee the right decision. That Joe Biden should be Vice President. Joe Biden would be a Vice President who would make America proud. And a Vice President who would make America be better than it has been. Joe Biden will make the world proud.

 

Joe, if only I could vote mate…

Some people are arguing that the Vice President isn’t that much of a deal. That it isn’t that important. I beg to differ. The second most powerful person in the US government and you don’t think it is that important? Let me put it another way… Do you want to run your company with a good Chief Executive Officer but a Chief Financial Officer who knows nothing of how finances work? Or a Chief Operating Officer who knows nothing of commerce? Maybe not. If you do… Can you say “sink” baby?

It’s a pretty easy question. Who do you think would be best able to do the job when the President isn’t there?

Or ask yourself… Who do you think would be best able to help the next President do what he promises to do?

And a last one… Who do you want to represent your country (to friends and threats) if the President isn’t available?

Only one answer… Joe Biden.

It’s time that I remind myself what I think of Zuma. The most likely person to become President of South Africa next year. He won his battle with Mbeki. He got Mbeki to resign as President. Okay. Technically it was the ANC who got a little help from their friends the Three Stooges – COSATU, ANC YL and the SACP. But Zuma is Mr Idiot. And that’s putting it mildly… Will someone close the door when he is done? Or at least wipe the rim? I wrote this a few months back when the battle started. It made it into the Mail & Guardian in South Africa and for some reason not everyone was pleased. To those who say I only bash Republicans. Read on. You’ll see I come down hard on any political leader who does’t hold his or her side of the bargain. Let’s bitch…

How did we get to this, Arch?

How did we get to this, Arch?

Don’t bitch about Bush – you got Zuma

I am extremely proud of being African and South African. What we have managed to do over the last 15 odd years have been unbelievable. From the most despicable Apartheid regime to a stable democracy and sound economic growth. From the bottom of the world pecking order, to the leading global voice on justice. A leading light in a world at war. We have shown the world how everyone can live in peace and harmony – and celebrate differences instead of letting it divide us. The region I come from has shown the world how Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Jew can all live together, celebrate our differences and enrich our lives in this melting pot we call home – instead of trying to wipe each other out.

Yes, like all other countries we have challenges. Crime, poverty and HIV/Aids being the biggest. At the heart is poverty – or at least the lack of shared wealth. Too much is still in the hands of a small group of umlungu’s. We have the systems in place to start addressing this – affirmative action will help, but we have lots more to do to address wealth distribution. But as a start affirmative action policies have been integrated into our procurement system in innovative ways, as well as in the workplace. At the same time the government has brought electricity, running water and housing to millions of people. And so much more that still needs to be done. We are very much a work in progress. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless. Change doesn’t happen overnight.

We have won the Rugby World Cup – twice! Unfortunately, we continue to suck big time in soccer, but will show the world how to party in 2010.

We have shown how democracy can be a powerful way to bring real benefits to all people in South Africa. Since 1994 we have experienced mostly all the good and great things of having a democracy.

And then there was Zuma.

Zuma has just been elected as the leader of the ANC – the political party I have always supported and voted for in South Africa. He is now in a perfect position to become the next President of South Africa. The ‘Comrades’ at the ANC Congress last month celebrated his win as proof that democracy works and that anyone can be elected as a leader in a free and fair election.

But lets be clear about something. Zuma is an idiot. I have met him a few times and he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He has the charisma of a damp dishcloth. And the morals of a rat. He didn’t deny sleeping with the young girl that was not only HIV positive, but also a family friend. Whether there was consent or not is irrelevant. You would expect more from someone who is supposed to be a leader we look up to – who should be a shining light for us to follow. And the fact that he took a shower afterwards to ‘ensure’ he doesn’t ‘catch’ HIV speaks to his intellect. And I am not even going to go into the corruption charges. How the hell can the ANC Women’s League justify supporting this guy during the election? And when I was a unionist in South Africa we all saw Zuma speak at the COSATU Congress – how could you even think for a minute he would be a leader for the workers or the people?

I know that people don’t like Mbeki, but you don’t drink cyanide just because you don’t like Coke. Pick something else that won’t kill you. Okay, cyanide will kill you quicker than Zuma, but the outcome will be the same – Zuma will drag everything that Madiba and all our great leaders have worked and fought for through the mud. We will be the laughing stock of the world. Mbeki is a statesman respected across the world for not bending to popular demand, but sticking to what is just and right. Well, most of the time – he is fallible (read his HIV/Aids policies). Hey, I don’t even like him that much. But Mbeki is a giant compared to Zuma.

What really gets to me is the fact that these same ‘Comrades’ will be the ones bitching and moaning about Bush and other world leaders , but especially Bush. As they used to say at union meeting – ‘Comrade, you are out of order’. You lost your right to criticize the democratically elected leaders from other countries when you elected Zuma as your leader. Bush might be an idiot with policies we don’t like or agree with, but he was democratically elected (twice) by his people. Okay, he IS an idiot – just like Zuma. So, stop your bitching about Bush or Brown – or even Mugabe – you got Zuma. YOU just moved us from standing on the moral highground to crawling in the mud. YOU voted him in. YOU are responsible. YOU will be the laughing stock of the world. YOU just lost your right to bitch.

I really don’t know where this post is going. It’s about heroes. But not sure… Let’s see.

I was doing the dishes tonight. Cleaning up after I had a fight with the barbeque. Oh I lost alright. The chicken burned and I ran out of gas midway. But that’s not the story.

I was doing the dishes and my lovely wife called me to say one of my favorite telly guys just won an Emmy. Stephen Colbert. Wish you could all see this guy. As sharp as a knife. Remember what he did to Bush in 2006 at the White House Correspondence Dinner? Go have a look here if you get the chance. (It is in three parts so please go look for part 2 and 3. It was worth it. I promise. And what the hell was Bush thinking Stephen Colbert was going to do?) Anyway… That took balls. In the lion’s den and he really went for it. And his show won again.

So I stopped doing the dishes and sat down on the couch to have a quick look at Stephen Colbert. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t make a stronger political statement – he did it later when he joined Jon Stewart and they had a bit of a go at McCain. The old prune. I was about to get up when Steve Martin came on just after Stephen Colbert. I felt like having a laugh so stayed to watch him. And he introduced me to a new hero.

Tommy Smothers. Or Thomas Bolin “Tom” Smothers III as he is sometimes known. I won’t go into details of who he is. (Go here to see more on Wikipedia.) I didn’t know who he was. I was just watching Steve Martin make funny references about this guy. This guy who was going to get an Emmy for a show that hardly lasted more than a season back in the late 60s. Steve was funny, but I was about to get up when he did he speech and introduced the guy. For some reason I decided to stay and listen to what the guy had to say.

Well, maybe I stayed because Steve Martin told us how the show got cut because this guy got a little bit too political on his show. And how the guy didn’t want his name on the Emmy nomination back in the 60s because he thought that the other writers will stand less of a chance to win because of him. Honorable. And then he became my hero.

Just like that. This guy who could have had an easier life if he just kept quiet and did his show the way they wanted him to do it. Who could have had a much more successful career if he just kept his politics to himself. But he didn’t. He stood up for what he believed in. And he still does today.

I give you my new hero. And the words that made him my hero…

“It’s hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war. And there’s nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action,” he said, dedicating his award to “all people who feel compelled to speak out, and are not afraid to speak to power, and won’t shut up and refuse to be silenced.”

That’s a hero. Someone who knows that there are easier ways. But only one right way. And a hero is someone who picks the right way.

Artists aren’t heroes. They are just celebrities. I like watching people like Colbert and Stewart. But they are paid do say what they say. They are good at it. They entertain me. But will they stay the same if the chips are down? Not all of them will. Bill Maher did. And he lost his job before everyone realized he was right. I don’t always agree with him. But he doesn’t pull punches. And never took the easy route.

But celebrities are just celebrities. Pretty people or funny people or “serious” actors. There to entertain us. Do they have a right to use this media for politics? Of course. They have an opinion and can use their medium just like everyone else. Like me. Like all of us. Just like NewsBusters and other right-wingers. I have no more knowledge than anyone else, but I use “my” medium to say what I want to say. And they have their medium. Some CEO’s use their mediums to influence politics. Why can’t actors? Charlton Heston did. And he is (was) loved by Republicans. Or rather by the pro-gun Republicans.

Hey Ronald Reagan was even voted into the office. And the role he was remembered best for was with a monkey. And no, I am not talking about Bush Sr, although I am sure he met Jr at some stage. And you know how I feel about Reagan. I didn’t like him then and I won’t start liking him just because he is dead. I saw the blood that came because of him. But this isn’t about Reagan. This is about heroes. And he wasn’t one.

After watching Tommy Smothers I was reminded of those other heroes I don’t know. That I haven’t met yet. Those men and women who defend the rights of Tommy to say what he wants to say. The soldiers. Yes. They are my heroes.

They do what is right. What they signed up for. To defend this great country when asked to defend it. To go into war when asked. Not questioning the war. Just doing what they said they would do. And staying true even if they don’t like it or agree with it.

Make no mistake. I hate war. And I especially hate the war in Iraq. There is nothing just about the war in Iraq. But they were asked to go into war by a weak President. And they did. Because that is what they signed up for. To defend this country. Even when the definition of defending is warped through lies and weakness and phantom enemies created by a President who ran away from war when it was his turn. The soldiers didn’t define what it means to defend. They only execute the decision by the leader who makes that decision. And the leaders who support that decision. They are heroes. Even when those who send them to fight a stupid senseless war are anything but heroes. President G. W. Bush is not a hero. The soldiers who fight his stupid war are.

It’s a shame they are not fighting a war to keep us safe. It is a shame that they are just fighting a war someone got them into. A war that has not made the US any safer than before 9/11. All it has done is to raise the possibility of them having to defend this country from more enemies than before. And one man wants them to fight some more wars no one can justify. “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Yes McCain. It might be funny to you. But to real heroes it is real and not funny. But don’t worry. These heroes will fight your stupid wars if you make it to the White House. While you sit in your nice cosy home – any of them. And when you sit there and laugh how you “got” the other guy.

These heroes will die for this country. To defend Tommy and everything he stands for. And they will die for McCain and everything he stand for. They will just do it. Because that is what makes them right. And because that is what makes them heroes. Those soldiers are heroes. Each and every single one of them. Even when I don’t agree with the war they are involved in.

But I also learned something else while washing the dishes. Heroes don’t always stay heroes. Tommy stayed a hero. He only became my hero tonight. But in truth… He has always been my hero. Because he always did what was right. Even before I knew him. That is a true hero. Someone who stays true no matter what. Even when it is tempting to take the easy route. Even when they could make more money or become more powerful if they took the other route.

So tell me Mr McCain… When did you stop being a hero? When was that moment that it happened? Or was it a gradual thing. Did doing the right thing slowly wash off you like a bad childhood memory? Or were you never really a hero? But we met you as a hero. When you took every single thing they threw at you when they tortured you and just stayed true. Stayed a hero. For more than 5 years while a prisoner of war. You were a hero. What happened?

John Sidney McCain III. How did you stop becoming a hero? How did you turn into what you have become? How did you go from hero to Nero? Willing to lie to become more powerful. Willing to torture others when you were tortured. Willing to smear anyone else who stands in your way. Putting yourself above what is right. Putting yourself above those who are willing to defend your rights. When did you become like those who held you prisoner for more than five years? When did you stop being a hero?

Heroes… Heroes never give up. Heroes never stop. Heroes never think of themselves first. Heroes stay true no matter what. To Tommy. You are a hero. To those men and women who stay true to what is asked of them no matter what. You are heroes.

McCain. You are not. You are a hero lost. And maybe that is the saddest part of it all. You could have been one…