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A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

The illustrated title says "Happy Earth Day Celebrating 50 Years."

Earth Day, fifty years on

Earth Day, fifty years on, looks a lot different from the early Earth Days I remember. 

Followers of this blog may recall my claim to be “older than dirt” (as a gardener who composts, I can confidently make that claim). I also am older than Earth Day.

As with many things in the 1970s, however, I came to Earth Day a bit late. Many schools in the US let out classes or didn’t count absences, if students left campus to participate in peaceful demonstrations or “teach-ins” on April 22, 1970 (Seriously! What an awesome civics lesson!). But not my high school in conservative southwest Missouri! 

(Video courtesy of YouTube)

No, we may have glimpsed a story about it on the news. And it may have begun in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation. But it would take a few more years, and my evolution into a “somewhat-hippie” college art major, before I actively participated in any observances of Earth Day.

An expanding movement

The first Earth Day was a mixed success, but the movement persisted, because the problems didn’t go away. Decades of laissez-faire non-regulation of toxins in the environment had turned most of the “developed” world into a toxic mess

I cringe when I hear about recent changes that make the Environmental Protection Agency less able to hold polluters accountable, or when supposedly-reasonable political leaders discount climate change.

In this 1952 black-and-white photo, a tugboat squirts water on a fire that is burning atop the extremely polluted Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, OH.
The Cuyahoga River caught fire several times near Cleveland, OH, during the mid-20th Century. It got to be kind of a routine event. This is a photo from June 25, 1952, when it still seemed kind of novel. (historic photo courtesy of Wired)

That’s because I remember when the Cuyahoga River could be set on fire by sparks from a passing train. And I remember rarely being able to see the mountains from Denver (while the view of Denver from the mountains was a reddish-looking haze of pollution). I also remember being in Kansas City for only a day, before I could wipe a layer of grime off my car from particulates in the air.

In this 1980s-era photo, the Denver skyline and the Rockies beyond it are only dimly visible through the reddish-brown haze of pollution that routinely hung over the city.
Denver smog alert, 1980s-era (photo courtesy of the EPA).

But the USA wasn’t alone. Irresponsible governments and companies were freely destroying the whole world. So by the 1990s, Earth Day had grown into a global event. We all have a stake in our planet’s health!

Fifty years on, “Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world.”

But 50 years on, there’s still a lot to do

Global climate change is still accelerating. Too many powerful people don’t want to change, don’t want to risk having to pay for cleanups, and don’t seem to think they’ll suffer too many consequences if they drag their feet.

On this blog, I’ve sounded the alarm about deforestationhabitat lossextreme weather, and other aspects of climate change that affect us now–today.

And there’s plenty we can do. Let’s choose greater energy efficiency in our own lifestyles, advocate for climate-wise policies in our local, state, and national government, and stay aware and informed. 

Volunteer opportunities abound. So do donation opportunities. If we have more time than money, it’s pretty easy to find and get involved in local clean-ups, community gardening efforts, educational work, or any of the many other initiatives.

There are as many different paths to a better future as there are people–but time is running out. Fifty years on, Earth Day reminds us that the cost of ignoring the problem is too ghastly to accept.

The image reads, "Happy Earth Day."
(Image courtesy of Earth911)

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Kresge.org for the “Happy Earth Day 50 Years” featured image, and to YouTube for the 1970-vintage video from CBS. I’m grateful to Wired, for the historic photo of the Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952, and to the EPA for the photo of 1980s-era Denver. And finally, many thanks to Earth911, for the “Happy Earth Day” greeting image.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The time is always right to do what is right."

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down almost 52 years ago. Depending on where we live, we’ve been observing the holiday that honors him for 34 years, as of today. There are wide variations in the ways people observe (or don’t pay much heed to) this holiday. But really. How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King reads, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
King’s words ring as true now as ever. Senators, are you listening? (Image courtesy of PassportCamps)

What did Dr. King stand for?

King is known as a civil rights activist and a key leader in the struggles of African Americans to break the shackles of the Jim Crow era. He certainly was those things. He found his forum as a Baptist preacher, at a time when the church was the center of nearly every black community (a place of empowerment since Reconstruction and before). 

But his influence and his message soon reached far beyond the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. A prolific speaker, writer and seemingly-tireless advocate for civil rights, voting rights, peace, and the empowerment of the poor, he also was a scholar and thinker. 

And more of a socialist and anti-war activist than many in America wanted to accept (neither then, nor, in many ways, still today). He was subject to bouts of depressionNot always “liberated” in terms of women’s equality. In other words, he was human. Complicated. Flawed. 

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice."
(Image courtesy of QuotesGram)

We shouldn’t be surprised. Nobody’s an icon in real life. But in light of his complicated nature, how should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? I’d say the key is looking to his core values–the ideals he returned to again and again in his life. These are racial equality, as well as his work against poverty (which fueled his socialist thought) and war (noted for his devotion to nonviolence, he also spoke out strongly against the Vietnam War).

Racial equality

We are very far from King’s vision of a diverse society untainted by racial injustice. If anything, recent years have seen a resurgence of white supremacist sentiment and a bloody wave of hate crimes along with it. If you hate hate crimes, perhaps you’d like to support the nemesis of hate crime perpetrators.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? Well, first of all, we can stand up against hate in our own personal lives.

White folks, we have a big responsibility in this area. To start with, we need to about the diversity within our own communities. Refuse to listen in appalled silence or titter weakly when someone cracks a racist joke or makes a racially insensitive comment.

Educate ourselves about white privilegeinstitutional racism, and the many ways that microaggressions and cultural appropriation wound and inhibit others. That’s base-level, elementary stuff.

Beyond that, we white folks need to consciously expand our lives and our circles. Welcome and support persons of color in our workplaces, our places of worship, and our associationsRead the work of diverse writers (buy their books!)

Voting Rights go hand-in-hand with racial equality

One of the hardest-fought campaigns of the civil rights era was the effort to achieve equal voting rights for African Americans. The white supremacists who held a lock on the portals of power in those days would literally kill to prevent black people from voting (the contrast with King’s nonviolent approach was part of what made the Civil Rights Movement so moving to people all over the world).

This quote image from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind--it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact--I can only submit to the edict of others."
(Image courtesy of Medium)

We live in another era when voting rights–especially voting rights for persons of color–are under heavy attack. Between voter-roll purgesgerrymanderingID requirements, and other shenanigans designed to disadvantage the poor, there is lots of corruption to fight. It will take advocacy by everyone to fight it!

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

Concrete steps we can take? Support voting rights for all. That includes felons who’ve done their timeBlack communities have been decimated by a prison-industrial complex. Their lobbyists and lawmakers who want to be seen as “tough on crime” developed a system that unfairly targets impoverished (mostly black) communities.

Voting rights were a key goal of the civil rights movement. They’re still highly relevant todayAdvocate to your legislators. Support the League of Women Voters. And for pity’s sake, vote yourself, to elect candidates and causes that support equality!

Poverty

Dr. King was fighting poverty by supporting the Poor People’s Campaign when he was assassinated. But poverty is at least as institutionally entrenched now as it was then.

Even King himself (a college-educated member of the black middle class) was originally unaware of how profound poverty could be in the US, until he visited a black school in an impoverished rural community in the Mississippi Delta. There he saw the results of food insecurity for himself. He was, in the Christian sense, convicted by what he saw. From that time forward he held a special place in his heart for the poor.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "It's all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his bootstraps."
King observed many systemic forces trapping people in poverty, even when they strove to prosper (Image courtesy of United Way of Southeast Missouri).

He developed a burning sense of the injustice of the systemConservatives then as today speak of “personal responsibility.” They see it as primary in determining someone’s prosperity or poverty. To King, this is a flawed analysis.

 He argued for changes to the system itself. In the latter part of his life, King increasingly saw the problem of poverty as an inescapable failing that is intrinsic to any capitalist economic system.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few."
King’s work against poverty likely fueled his interest in socialism, which dates back at least to his studies at Crozer Theological Seminary and his study of the work of Walter Rauschenbusch. (Times Live, South Africa)

King’s embrace of socialism

During the 1960s, the US reached the height of the Cold War with the Soviets and plowed deeper into the Vietnam War against communism (more on that later).

Within a decade or so of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to root out what he saw as a communist infiltration of the USA, socialism was deeply unpopular. Dr. King’s embrace of it and his antipathy to the Vietnam War meant he was seriously unpopular in much of America at the time of his death.

Socialism remains “a dirty word” today in some quarters, but half a century after King died, some segments of the economy see it as an interesting proposition.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."

The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party has fielded several candidates who embrace socialistic economic strategies, including Bernie Sanders, who labels himself a “democratic socialist,” and another who espouses a basic minimum incomeAndrew Yang calls it the “Freedom Dividend.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? Whatever your opinions on the best ways to combat poverty, it’s certainly true that advocacy, donations, and volunteerism to aid the poor are always needed.

War

Aside from his socialist bent, King’s opposition to the Vietnam War earned him a lot of enemies. Given his commitment to nonviolence his opposition should surprise no one. And with the hindsight of history we can see that he made some good points, although some might not accept his assertion that “we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam.”

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The time is always right to do what is right."
No stranger to opposition, Dr. King followed his convictions on the Vietnam War, despite the cost to his reputation. (Image courtesy of PassportCamps)


But have you done a serious review of the decisions, assumptions and motivations that led our nation’s leaders into that war? Unfortunately, it bolsters his opinion that “we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam.”

Testing weapons on civilians? Unfortunately, yes.

He also was right that the US was testing weapons on the Vietnamese people. The Vietnam War became an ugly arena for the widespread use of chemical weapons. CS gas was deployed to drive combatants out of tunnels, but they often asphyxiated or were left with lesions on their lungs.

Agent Orange had been used as a defoliant before Vietnam, but never so widely as a weapon. The US contaminated almost a quarter of South Vietnam with the stuff, which decays into dioxin, a persistent carcinogen. The environmental and human destruction persist to this day.

While napalm had been used in a limited way during World War II and the Korean War, it was widely deployed against both Vietnamese civilians and Vietcong fighters. Although President Nixon later tried to convince the US public that napalm wasn’t being used on civilians, there were too many journalists in-country, and too much of it was dumped over too broad an area to support that lie.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government."
King’s opposition to the Vietnam War won him little favor. (Image courtesy of Veterans for Peace)

The most horrifying weapons-test of the Vietnam War era never happened, however: a Defense Department consultant group discouraged testing the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam strongly enough that the idea was (thank goodness!) scrubbed.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? In my opinion, we all have an obligation to advocate for diplomacy over strutting arrogance and saber-rattling. Ways to promote peace? Contact your legislators. Demonstrate, if you’re so inclined and have the opportunity. Vote for rational candidates who take a measured approach to conflict resolution.

It’s also important to remember that peace begins at home. In our families and in our communities, intelligent communication and our commitment to de-escalation of violence (including violent words) sets a peace-friendly tone.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

There are many ways to honor King’s life and work. I think one of the best is by remembering what a complex, courageous, and deep-thinking person he was. His memory endures in part from the brilliance of his writing and the complexities and deep morality that drove him.

He can’t be reduced to a symbol of just one thing, if we’re honest. And there’s no telling how differently we would remember him, if he hadn’t been killed in the middle of his work.

This quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I 've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get ther with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy tonight."
He didn’t get there with us. Indeed, we’re still a long way from getting there. But the hope in his vision and the power of his courage offer ideas about how we should honor Dr. King’s legacy. (Image by Heidi Yosinski/Penn State News, via Laura Schulenberg Cole)

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Passport Camps, for the “measure of a man”and “do what is right” quote images. I appreciate the Sunday Times of South Africa for the “necessities from the many” quote image, and QuotesGram, for the “valley of segregation” quote image. Thanks are due to Medium, for the “power of the vote” and “guaranteed income” quote images; to Veterans for Peace, for the “purveyor of violence” quote image, and to design student Heidi Yosinski, Penn State, and Laura Schulenberg Cole for the “mountaintop” quote image. I’m indebted to you all!

This image depicts the author herself, with a pair of handcuffs, and the quote, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."

A horrible warning?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

I don’t know whether last Friday’s post about the Library Liberation Project shows me to be a good example (cleaning up at last!) or a horrible warning (watch out, or this could be you!).

Either way, it’s set my January “workout routine.” From the look of things, I’ll be “pumping boxes” and hauling stuff regularly for a while.

This image depicts the author herself, with a pair of handcuffs, and the quote, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."

A broken tradition

It’s traditional to make New Year’s resolutions to improve this or that about one’s life. But it’s also traditional to break New Year’s resolutions. There’s almost a sense of doom about the exercise from the get-go.

Some people skirt the issue by calling them something else, such as “goals.” Perhaps that changes their mind-set enough that it works for them, perhaps not. Goodness knows it’s hard to make major changes in one’s habits, no matter what we call the process, and no matter how life-threatening the thing we’re trying to change (such as stopping an addictive behavior, losing weight, or improving fitness).

This "EE Card" reads, "I can't believe it's been a year since I didn't become a better person."

The general consensus of advice columns, articles, and blog posts comes down principles we’ve all heard before: persistent baby steps, not big flashy changes we can’t sustain, are more likely to result in real improvement.

But change is possible, right?

Yes, change is definitely possible. Not only is it possible, but it’s inevitable. Positive change after negative actions is hard, but it’s possible, too. The past doesn’t have to doom the future

Otherwise, no education would ever prepare us, no addict would ever recover, and recidivism after prison would always be 100%. We all make mistakes, missteps, blunders. What we learn from them, and how we change our behavior as a result of them, is what makes the crucial difference.

This illustrated quote from Mark Twain reads, "Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions."

As time goes on, I guess we’ll see what sort of omen I’ll turn into. Meanwhile, I probably should sample some Catherine Aird mysteries (the author looks as if she has personality to spare).

IMAGE CREDITS: The photo of Catherine Aird is courtesy of her Goodreads page and her website. The illustrated quote is from me, Jan S. Gephardt, using Adobe Illustrator (reblog or re-post freely, but please attribute it to me, and link back to this post!). The “ee card” about not becoming a better person is from some ee cards New Year’s memes. Many thanks to them, and also to QuoteFancy, for the Mark Twain quote. Thank you and happy New Year to all!

this black and gold image is a word cloud with a background of fireworks. At the center is a large "2020," surrounded by words and phrases such as "Happy New Year, Good luck, Success, Health, Happiness, Love, Peace," and "Satisfaction," as well as " Wish you all the best for 2020."

Happy New Year!

this black and gold image is a word cloud with a background of fireworks. At the center is a large "2020," surrounded by words and phrases such as "Happy New Year, Good luck, Success, Health, Happiness, Love, Peace," and "Satisfaction," as well as " Wish you all the best for 2020."

As I have in the past, do now, and always will! I wish you all the best of a Happy New Year! 

IMAGE: Many thanks to meineurlaubswelt via 123RF, for this New Year greeting!

This graphic from the Calgary Fire Department shows falling snow and three holiday ornaments. It says, "Happy New Year! Be safe! Plan ahead and ensure you have a safe way home."

Ready for the parties

The New Year’s countdown has started. 2019 is almost in the history books. A new year is a good time for hopes, dreams, and plans. But meanwhile, are you ready for the parties?

Your local first responders are. 

Looks like 4th of July, but these are New Year's fireworks, as seen from the side of a Branson, MO Fire Rescue truck. And while 4th of July is the busiest holiday for first responders, New Year's is right up there. (LION Gear/Branson MO Fire Rescue)
Looks like 4th of July, but these are New Year’s fireworks, as seen from the side of a Branson, MO Fire Rescue truck. And while 4th of July is the busiest holiday for first responders, New Year’s is right up there. (LION Gear/Branson MO Fire Rescue)

Perhaps surprisingly, New Year’s Eve is not the busiest day for them. Those honors go to the 4th of July in much of the USA. Thanksgiving is another notably busy time, especially for fires and medical emergenciesfollowed by Christmas for most of the same reasons.

But even if they’re not securing Times Square from terrorists, first responders everywhere are getting ready for the parties. Because where there are parties, there’s drinking

Dread running into a sobriety checkpoint on New Year's Eve? The police don't exactly love doing them, either. But cops would rather stop drunk drivers this way than scrape them off the pavement later. In the story from Tulsa, OK that this photo originally illustrated, one police chief advertised his willingness to give free rides home to anyone who'd had too much to drink. In fact, Chief Tracy Roles is doing it again this year. (Photo from KJRH/Scripps News Service)
Dread running into a sobriety checkpoint on New Year’s Eve? The police don’t exactly love doing them, either. But cops would rather stop drunk drivers this way than scrape them off the pavement later. In the story from Tulsa, OK that this photo originally illustrated, one police chief advertised his willingness to give free rides home to anyone who’d had too much to drink. In fact, Chief Tracy Roles is doing it again this year. (Photo from KJRH/Scripps News Service)

Dangers on the road

We all know the drill. We’ve heard the lectures. We all know it’s not safe to drink and drive. Or do we? From the declining numbers of alcohol-related accidents over recent decades, the message appears to be widely understood, but still today not everyone pays attention or thinks this applies to them. So, one more timeAlcohol can quickly impair your ability to drive safely

Your size, weight, gender, what you have or haven’t had to eat, and the amount of alcohol you drank all influence the amount of impairment your central nervous system suffers. That’s why some people can drink and still think they’re functioning just fine. 

But the plain facts are that alcohol consumption slows your reaction time, impairs your coordination, reduces your concentration, decreases your ability to see, and impairs your judgment. That makes it a recipe for trouble if you drink too much, then get behind the wheel.

There are similar problems if you’re high on any other drug, if you’re texting while the car’s in motion, you’re overly tired, or you’re distracted by raucous passengers. New Year’s Eve is prime time for all of those things!

And please, be nice to first responders you do encounter. They’re working on a holiday, to help keep you safe, and they’ll do it whether you appreciate it or not. But I really hope you’ll appreciate it, and tell them so.

And thank you for doing it between calls, Officer! A significant percentage of police officer deaths and injuries in traffic are the result of officers being distracted by all the tech and other things they're supposed to monitor. (Stopping the Stigma of PTSD in First Responders and High Stress Workers/Facebook)
And thank you for doing it between calls, Officer! A significant percentage of police officer deaths and injuries in traffic are the result of officers being distracted by all the tech and other things they’re supposed to monitor. (Stopping the Stigma of PTSD in First Responders and High Stress Workers/Facebook)

Pre-party preparation

When you’re getting ready for the parties, it pays to make plans. The Los Angeles Police Department has some tips to offer, and I’ve added a few of my own.

Party Hosts:

Be wary of anyone you don’t know. Did they come as the guest of an invited guest, or are they crashing the party to case your house? 


Make sure party decorations are secured so they can’t be pulled over by accident, especially by petschildren, or unstable drinkers. Keep all flames (such as candles or fires in a fireplace or fire pit) far away from flammable clothing, decorations, or furnishings.

Keep potentially hazardous treats out of pets’ reach, and keep an eye out for guests accidentally letting a pet outside into danger.

Even if you offer alcoholic drinks, also have non-alcoholic drinks available for party guests. Consider offering food that can help buffer the effects of alcohol consumption. Have a plan for helping intoxicated guests get home via alternative transportation, a quiet place where guests can rest and “sleep it off,” or perhaps a designated driver for the party who doesn’t drink any alcohol.

If you’re ready for the parties, your parties will be lots more fun.

Partygoers:

If you’re traveling anywhere, especially at night, don’t travel alone if you can help it. And while you’re forming a group, why not pick a designated driver? 

Remember to lock doors and windows while you’re gone, so the burglars can’t get in! And surely it goes without saying that small children should always be left under competent, caring supervision–but I’ll say it anyway.

If you know you’ll be drinking, consider eating first. That’ll make the evening last longer. You’ll have more fun if you’re not passed out in the corner somewhere.

Be sure you’re ready for the parties, so you and your friends can stay safe while you’re having fun. And HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!

This graphic from the Calgary Fire Department shows falling snow and three holiday ornaments. It says, "Happy New Year! Be safe! Plan ahead and ensure you have a safe way home."
I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks, Calgary Fire Department!

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to LION Gear and Branson Fire Rescue for the fireworks photo. I deeply appreciate the sobriety checkpoint photo from Tulsa’s KJLA/Scripps News Service–and even more the willingness of Bartlesville, OK Police Chief Tracy Roles to go the literal extra miles to prevent drunk-driving accidents! 

Many thanks to Stopping the Stigma of PTSD in First Responders and High Stress Workers on Facebook, for the “Text ‘Happy New Year!'” image–and also for your worthy mission! PTSD is near-endemic in these highly necessary, but high-stress jobs. Our first responders shouldn’t have to suffer the results with no support!

Last but not least, thank you Calgary Fire Department and Jackie Long, via Jackie Long’s Twitter feed, for the closing image with New Year’s wishes.

Santa's traded his red suit for police blue for this Merry Christmas message.

Merry Christmas, and be careful out there

Not everyone gets to celebrate at home with their families today. With that in mind, today’s post is a tribute to the first responders who have to work. Because heart attacks don’t take a holidayNeither do fires. Nor mental health emergencies. Nor crime. “Let’s be careful out there” was an iconic line from the 1980s show Hill Street Blues, but it applies in all decades. 

In the past I’ve written about ways to thank first responders, and I hope I’ve expressed my thanks and respect through other blog posts as well. But it’s time to do it again. So to all first responders I’d just like to say, Merry Christmas, and be careful out there!

911 Dispatchers

The Dispatch Center at the Ada County Sheriff's Department in Ada County, Idaho is a busy place during the holidays, just like practically every other 911 Dispatch center.
The Dispatch Center at the Ada County Sheriff’s Department in Ada County, Idaho is a busy place during the holidays, just like practically every other 911 Dispatch center.

It’s a too-frequently-forgotten crucible of chaos that’s often a center of frantic activity on holidays: the place where the calls come in. 9-1-1 dispatchers have a high-stress front row seat on the worst day in the life of practically everyone in town.

That goes double for busy winter holidays. Roads are often wet or icy. People are distracted, inebriated, or both. Stuff happens. And 9-1-1 dispatchers are expected to remain rock-steady through it all. No, they’re not out in the weather, but never imagine they’re not in the fight. And never imagine their job is easy. 

hope they’ll accept my heartfelt thanks, for what they’re worth!

Emergency Medical Service and Firefighters

EMS doesn't always get shoveled sidewalks or plowed streets when it snows, but it's nice when that happens. (Photo by Gold Cross Ambulance/Post Bulletin)
EMS doesn’t always get shoveled sidewalks or plowed streets when it snows, but it’s nice when that happens. (Photo by Gold Cross Ambulance/Post Bulletin)

EMS is part of the local Fire Department in much of the United States, but not always or everywhere. However they’re organized, when Dispatch calls they go. No matter what’s on the ground. Shouldn’t matter which neighborhood (although, sadly, sometimes it may). And it doesn’t matter how gory or horrible the things they see when they arrive might be. 

Winter is a difficult time to fight fires. Added to the usual dangers, cold weather can cause falls from slips on ice, frostbite, and related hazards. Add all of this to the strain of being away from one’s family, and you can see that holiday duty comes with added stress

Many thanks to all of you! Merry Christmas, and be careful out there!

A fire truck stands inside a fire station. A Christmas wreath adorns its grille.
Christmas cheer is where you make it at the fire station, when you have to work that day or night. (Photo: WJHG Channel 7, Panama City Beach, FL)
Someone has completely covered this fire truck with more Christmas lights than you could easily imagine. It is blinged out past the max.
Sometimes it’s a modest wreath . . . sometimes it’s a bit more elaborate. (Photo: Ephraim325 on Reddit)

Police Officers

Many of the people who come into contact with police officers during the holidays are not happy to see them. Drunk drivers, domestic disturbances in stressed-out households, thieves from porch pirates to armed robbers, and many other criminals take no holidays. In fact, Christmas is “the most dangerous time of the year.

This makes police officers’ Thanksgivings thankless, their Christmases critical, and their New Years nasty. Whatever holidays they celebrate, they know they’ll receive more curses than holiday greetings on those days.

I know one blog post can’t make up for all the abuse, but this blogger thanks you! Merry Christmas, and be careful out there!

I found a couple of cartoons by this unidentified artist, featuring an "Officer Santa" character. Here's one that says, "Thank you to all our first responders working over the holidays to keep us safe."
I found a couple of cartoons by this unidentified artist, featuring an “Officer Santa” character. (If you know who the artist is, I’d love to know and give credit!) (Sidney Ohio City Government on Facebook)
Here's the second picture. Clearly the same artist, same "Officer Santa" character, same rousing thank-you message: "Thank you for working the holidays so others can enjoy theirs."
Clearly the same artist, same character, same rousing thank-you message. (Police Benevolent Foundation)

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to the Ada County (ID) Sheriff’s Glassdoor listing, for this uncredited photo of their dispatch center. I’m grateful to The Rochester (MN) Post Bulletin and Gold Cross Ambulance (now called Mayo Clinic Ambulance). I also thank WJHG Channel 7, of Panama City Beach (FL), for their photo and story about first responders working on the holidays. I’m very grateful to Ephraim 325 on Reddit, via Pinterest. I’m grateful to the Sidney, Ohio City Government’s Facebook Page for the first “Officer Santa” picture, and to the Police Benevolent Foundation, via the “Sh*t My Callers Say” Tumbler, written by an emergency response dispatcher. The Featured Image is thanks to Mike Morr on Twitter, via Pinterest.

A German Shepherd sits alertly in front of a glowing Christmas Tree.

Seasonal K9 moments

The Artdog Images of Interest

It’s the end of the week, and for many of us it’s the start of a holiday break. I thought you might enjoy some seasonal K9 moments on a Friday-before-the-big-events! 

Home for the holidays

One inevitable problem every year is the struggle to travel. We Americans live in a far-flung nation, so we’re always going to grapple with travel woes. But it’s far from only an American problem. 

Crowding, bad weather, and security bottlenecks create chaos wherever we are (or are trying to go). How to cope? Working K9s will have many “seasonal moments.” They’ll be busy patrolling, screening packages at airports, and doing all they can to keep us safe.

This meme shows an alert German Shepherd sitting on an airline passenger's lap, surveying the other passengers as if they're suspects. The meme says, "Here's an idea: put a drug sniffing, bomb detecting, terrorist eating, bad ass German Shepherd on every plane. Problem solved."

But “home for the holidays” doesn’t only apply to humans. Learn more about American Humane’s Service Dogs for Veterans initiative. If you’re looking for a place to make a holiday or end-of-year donation and you believe every retired service dog deserves a good home, consider this program.

Encounters with Santa

Would the holidays have as much sparkle without the chance to give and receive? Certainly not. And there’s all sorts of potential for seasonal K9 moments with Santa, in the run-up to Christmas.

This meme shows an alert German shepherd in front of a glowing Christmas tree. The wording says, "When this 'Santa Claus' comes, I'll be waiting."
In this photo a person in a Santa Claus outfit leans away from a barking German Shepherd. The meme says, "You are not leaving until I get my Tennis Ball."

Holiday gift-giving

Silly memes aside, I’d also like to highlight some more serious thoughts about seasonal K9 moments. Specifically, some very special, life-saving holiday presents for working police K9s

Vested for Christmas - San Antonio K9 Rick, shown with human partner Acosta, received a protective vest from Vested Interest in K9s Inc.
Vested in time for Christmas” – San Antonio K9 Rick (shown here with his human partner, Officer Robert Acosta of the VIA Transit Metro Police Department) received a bulletproof, stab-proof vest in mid-December 2018, from Vested Interest in K9s Inc. These vests are expensive, but through donations the organization provides them to working police dogs at no charge to the department.
Clinton Iowa K9 Roman (handler unidentified) also received a protective vest from Vested Interest in K9s Inc.
Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. was at it again this year, with (among other gifts) a bulletproof, stab-proof vest for K9 Roman (with unidentified sidekick) of the Clinton, Iowa Police Department, paid for entirely through donations.

hope your holiday traditions include charitable giving. If they do, consider a gift (perhaps on Boxing Day, especially if you missed Giving Tuesday) to one of the K9 good causes I featured in this post:

IMAGE CREDITS

The “Here’s an Idea” image is courtesy of Imagur’s Service Dog Memes. Many thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Community (the GSDC) on Facebook via Sheryl Pessell’s Pinterest Board, for the “I’ll be Waiting” meme (she has other good ones on there, too!). And double thanks to CHEEZburger, via I Can Has CHEEZburger’s “17 of the Best Animal Christmas Memes” page, for both the “You Are Not Leaving” (via I Love my German Shepherd Dog and Add Text) and the “Bark at Santa” (via Bella German Shepherds) images.

Finally, thanks to My San Antonio, for the “Vested in Time for Christmas” photo of K9 Rick and Officer Acosta (with accompanying story). Thanks also to KWQC of Clinton IA for the photo and story about K9 Roman (unfortunately, his uniformed sidekick wasn’t identified). And thanks very much to Vested Interest in K9s Inc. for their work!

Winter Solstice is December 21.

A month of holidays

December is a month of holidays. For several years, I’ve labored to create blog posts about the holidays that fall during this month. When I realized I was focusing exclusively on December holidays but no others, I started my “Holidays Project” last summer.

At this point I’ve done feature posts on nearly every major religious holiday that usually falls in December, as well as several more minor ones and at least two that are secular in nature. Why so many holidays in one month?

Winter Solstice is December 21.

Blame it on the Solstice. 

The astronomical event of the Winter Solstice creates the shortest daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It falls on December 21, nearly every year. Combine that fact with the nature of humans, and a holiday of some sort is near-inevitable

We humans have a psychological and spiritual need seek out hope and a cosmic picture of the Universe that makes sense. And we probably need it most of all when food is short and we’re in danger of freezing to death. That’s why December is a month of holidays.

I explored Solstice traditions in some depth, in a blog post from 2016 that still gets many hits every yearGet drunk, eat dumplings or fruit, and party down. It’s traditional! 

Festivals of light

Not surprisingly for holidays that originated during a month of long nights, a lot of December holidays feature candles or fires. 

A Solstice festival of light/fire is YuletideIn a 2013 post, I focused on the Yuletide legend of Krampus, but the tradition of burning the Yule Log (originally a whole tree, or most of one) is probably more well-known to those of us whose ancestors hail from the British Isles, where the related custom of Wassailing also originated. Of course, many people prefer their “Yule Logs” to be made of cake, rather than wood!

Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine, in this photo from Bangor.
Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine. (Bangor Daily News/Eric Michael Tollefson)

Last year, the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of Hanukkah both fell on the same day, December 2. This year Advent started on December 1, but Hanukkah doesn’t begin till sunset on December 22.

Compared with Yom Kippur and several of the others, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that has gained a greater following because of its proximity to the Christian holiday of Christmas, celebrated on December 25 each year.

Christmas originated as a religious holiday, and it still is one of the most important holidays of the Christian year, preceded by the Advent season and smaller holy or feast days such as St. Nicholas Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and St. Stephen’s Day.  If you think about it Christmas is a month of holidays, just by itself.

Secular observations

Especially in recent years, many individuals, cultures and traditions have embraced some of the more glamorous elements of Christmas, including Santa Claus, Christmas trees, holiday lights on buildings, and Christmas presentswithout much interest in the Christian religious aspects.

There will likely always be people who decry a “war on Christmas” (meaning a minimization of the religious aspects), it seems unlikely that these exuberant and sometimes garish secular holiday traditions will go away anytime soon. They’re too darn much fun.

The colorful lights outline each building and go on for blocks and blocks each year on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
The granddaddy of municipal Christmas light displays is the annual display in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza (unattributed photographer/KC Kids Fun)

One, somewhat peculiar spin-off of Christmas is Festivus, inspired by a TV show and celebrated with greater or lesser levels of devotion by aficionados.

considerably more spiritual, but not religious, celebration is Kwanzaa. I explored the days of Kwanzaa in some detail, back in 2017. Although the first day had to share billing with Boxing Day, the secondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth days got their own posts. The seventh day of Kwanzaa is also New Year’s Day.

However you celebrate this month of holidays, I hope you find love, joy, and peace among the hectic pace and the welter of traditions!

IMAGES: I created the “Winter Solstice” composite with help from Ksenia Samorukova (Ukususha) and Rawpixel at 123RF. Many thanks to the Bangor Daily News and Eric Michael Tollefson, for the photo of the bonfires in Maine, and to KC Kids Fun (and their unsung photographer) for the photo of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza holiday lights.

On a background photo of Black Friday shoppers, the words read, "Happy north American Heritage Day1).

Native American Heritage

Today is officially designated as Native American Heritage Day. That’s right. Out of all the days in November, which also is supposed to be Native American Heritage Month, the day they designated as THE day to honor Native American heritage was Black Friday. Sure. Nobody’s thinking about anything else today.

Shoppers compete for bargains on Black Friday (no photo credit listed).
Shoppers compete for bargains on Black Friday (no photo credit listed).

They codified this into law not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. H.J.Res. 62 was enacted and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 8, 2008. The following year, the same sponsor (Hispanic Congressman Joe Baca, a California Democrat) reintroduced it (with adjusted wording?). H.J.Res. 40 was signed into law June 26, 2009. But it wasn’t finalized (as far as I can tell) till August 20, 2010, with yet more adjusted wording.

And they say Congress never gets anything done.

They really worked hard to get this specific day codified into law as Native American Heritage Day. But I discovered I’m not alone in thinking the day after Thanksgiving is hardly the best day to single out for this recognition.

Problems with Thanksgiving

Many Native Americans already have enough trouble with Thanksgiving itself. There’s been a movement afoot since 1970, to call it Native American Day of Mourning, or Native American Genocide Day, because in traditional US narratives “the focus is always on the Pilgrims.”

United Native American Indians of New England hold a National Day of Mourning rally. (No photographer credited).
United Native American Indians of New England hold a National Day of Mourning rally. (No photographer credited). See also the video about this demonstration.

Although many Americans really want to dispute it, the European invasion of the so-called “New World” was an unmitigated disaster for native people, and there’s no other word for it. It was a slow-rolling, widespread, persistent, and extremely effective genocide. It was no accident. Even the Holcaust Museum calls it a holocaust. It is arguably perhaps the largest and longest in recorded human history–and unfortunately human history has a lot of genocides to compare.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that some tribal groups indeed have gone extinct, Native American (or, in Canada, First Nations) people persist. It would be comforting to say that they are, at last, safe and fully valued today, but that would also be false. In nearly every arena, Native Americans’ opportunities for wealtheducation, and optimal health care are severely crippled.

The pernicious legacy of Indian Schools

Native American cultural traditions were nearly decimated by the “Indian Schools.” These were boarding schools where authorities took people’s kidnapped childrenThe children often were abused for such misdeeds as speaking their own languages or telling traditional stories. They learned European religions and languages, made to dress like Europeans, and taught menial tasks

Two of the main buildings at the Shawnee Indian Mission Historical Site in Fairway, KS (photo by Keith Stokes)
Two of the main buildings at the Shawnee Indian Mission Historical Site in Fairway, KS (photo by Keith Stokes)

I live very close to one former such school, the Shawnee Indian Mission, which (in part) gave so many parts of the Kansas City metro area (at least on the Kansas side) their names. It inspired the name of my home church, Old Mission United Methodist Church, and it hosts an annual fall festival that draws people from all over the area. But the full, pernicious nature of the schooling that went on there still isn’t clearly understood by the surrounding community. For many of the 40+ years I’ve lived here, I didn’t fully get it either.

Oh, and lest you think that horrifying chapter ended in 1973, think again. It’s being perpetuated, whether willfully or not, in the foster care system of today.

A challenge for all Americans

Native people still live among us. They are an important part of our nation. Yet their important cultural sites, way of life, and sacred places still undergo attack. Some have assimilated, but many others still feel ostracized, marginalized, and all-too-often erased. 

But that erasure cannot–MUST NOT–stand. In a few, meaningful ways, native voices may start being heard (yes! Sharice Davids is my Congresswoman). But we need many, many more. In Congress, certainly. But also in our daily consciousness. In commerce and opportunity. In education. And in health care. It’s not just their fight. If the rest of us can ever hope to right the scales of cosmic justice, the fight for Native American heritage and equity must be our fight, too.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Canyon News for the Black Friday photo, to United American Indians of New England for the “Day of Mourning demonstration photo,  and to my longtime friend Keith Stokes for the photo of the Shawnee Indian Mission.

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