Today was my day off for the Veterans Day holiday, and I managed to come down with bronchitis. What a waste of a holiday. I’m ill enough that I can’t do anything fun, but not so ill that I can sleep all day. By mid-afternoon, I got so bored that I was reduced to watching sports.
I’m generally not much of a sports fan. But I watched the entire hour-long Asia-Oceanic guts final. And you know what? — It took my mind off my hacking cough, it took my mind off all the wars in the world, it took my mind off the growing effects of climate change. It was like meditation, only better (for me, anyway). Maybe that’s one reason why sports is now bigger than religion in the U.S. (or, more precisely, sports is now the biggest religion in the U.S.).
Labor Day has come again — at least, the United States version of Labor Day.
Everywhere else in the world, Labor Day is celebrated on May 1. But not in the United States. May 1, 1886, was the date of a general strike throughout the United States for the right to an eight hour day: “Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will.” In Chicago, the strike continued through May 3, where as many as 80,000 workers stopped work. Though the workers were peaceful, the police were not — on May 3, they fired on striking workers, killing at least two workers. So a mass rally was arranged for the next day, May 1, in Haymarket Square.
Police arrived in Haymarket Square at 10:30 p.m., just as Methodist minister Samuel Fielden was concluding a short speech, and as the peaceful demonstration was beginning to wind down. Police Captain John Bonfield, backed by a large contingent of armed police officers, ordered the already dispersing workers to disperse. Then someone threw a bomb, killing one officer and wounding several others. Police began firing at the workers, and also apparently at each other. Seven police officers were killed, at least some of them probably by friendly fire. At least four workers were killed, and over a hundred people total were wounded.
Eight people were convicted of the bombing, in a trial that almost all historians agree was a travesty of justice. In 1893, the governor of Illinois pardoned the three who hadn’t been executed, saying, “Capt. Bonfield is the man who is really responsible for the deaths of the police officers.”
But the damage to the labor movement had already been done. The Haymarket Massacre was all the excuse that employers needed to put an end to the call for an eight hour day. Corporations, newspapers, and politicians blamed the violence on immigrants and anarchists. The Chicago city government used the Massacre as an excuse to arrest scores of labor organizers. The massacre, which was acknowledged to have been incited by a police official, turned out to be a major setback for organized labor’s efforts to win an eight hour day for all U.S. workers.
The eight hour day finally became a reality — sort of — in the 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which required about one fifth of U.S. employers to pay overtime if a worker had to work more than 40 hours in a week. Gradually, that sort of became the norm for most workers, and atually became the law in some states. By 1984, when I started working in a Massachusetts lumber yard (because there were no jobs for philosophy majors during a recession), we were required to work a 50 hour week, but at least we got paid overtime if we worked more than 40 hours in a week, or if we worked more than 8 hours in a day.
I continued to work hourly-wage jobs until 1997 when I got a FLSA non-exempt job. Of course, I just took the eight hour day and the right to overtime for granted. The story of the Haymarket Massacre, and the rest of the bitter fight for an eight hour day — no one told me that story. It’s the kind of story that gets people worked up, that makes them believe that their employers don’t have their best interests at heart, that makes them believe that they might deserve to have more control over their working life. But I didn’t know any of that. Labor Day took place in early September, not on May 1, and rather than commemorating the Haymarket Massacre, it was just a nice way to end the summer.
Today, the age cohort known as Generation Z has become very supportive of unions. No surprise there. Employers are paying less, finding ways to ignore labor laws, and generally treating workers like they’re disposable. Many in Gen Z have realized that their most viable path to a middle class life is through unionizing. Maybe Labor Day can become more than an end to summer — maybe it can become a celebration of Gen Z’s unionization efforts.
And as we celebrate another U.S. Labor Day, perhaps some members of Gen Z will join me as I hum to myself — quietly, so as not to disturb our corporate masters — an old song that still seems to resonate today: “The Commonwealth of Toil” by Ralph Chaplin, hummed to the tune of “Nellie Gray”:
In the gloom of mighty cities, amid the roar of whirling wheels, we are toiling on like chattel slaves of old. And our masters hope to keep us, ever thus beneath their heels, and to coin our very life blood into gold.
Chorus: But we have a glowing dream of how fair the world will seem, when we each can live our lives secure and free. When the Earth is owned by labor, and there’s joy and peace for all, in the commonwealth of toil that is to be.
They would keep us cowed and beaten, cringing meekly at their feet. They would stand between the worker and their bread. Shall we yield our lives up to them for the bitter crust we eat? Shall we only hope for heaven when we’re dead?
They have laid our lives out for us to the utter end of time. Shall we stagger on beneath their heavy load? Shall we let them live forever in their gilded halls of crime, with our children doomed to toil beneath their goad?
When our cause has been triumphant, and we claim our Mother Earth, and the nightmare of the present fades away; we shall live with love and laughter; we, who now are little worth, and we’ll not regret the price we’ve had to pay!
The great showman P. T. Barnum knew the value of free publicity. He told many stories about himself to demonstrate that, and indeed his entire autobiography is an exercise in self-promotion and advertisement. In his book The Art of Getting Money, Barnum addressed this point with a statement that seems eeriely relevant in today’s political climate:
“I say if a man has got goods for sale, and he don’t advertise them in some way, the chances are that some day the sheriff will do it for him.”
And in fact the great showman of 2023, Donald Trump, got the Fulton County, Georgia, sheriff’s office to give him some of the best publicity he’s ever had — that now-famous mugshot, taken when Trump turned himself in at the Fulton County jail.
Old white guys in power find it easy to get publicity for just about anything they do. For example, compare Trump to me. Sure, I’m an old white guy, but I’m not in a position of power. So if I got arrested in Fulton County for racketeering, and my mugshot made it onto social media, I’d probably just lose my job. By contrast, when Trump’s mugshot gets spread around the interwebs, it just puts him that much closer to winning the presidential election.
The whole nonbinary gender thing is new and different, right? I mean, that’s why old people are so worked up about transgender and nonbinary, because it’s so new. Right?
Well, no. Now that I’m officially past the age of sixty, I qualify as old people (you can’t call me middle-aged, that’s for sure). And to me, non-binary gender seems normal. It doesn’t feel new at all. So how come an old guy like me feels that way?
Russell Arben Fox has been doing a series on pop music from 1983 at his blog In Media Res. I’ve been following his series in a desultory fashion, and I finally tumbled to one of his main point — that a lot of pop music from the early 1980s bent or broke gender norms. David Bowie was especially well-known for androgyny. I remember a friend, someone we’d now call nonbinary gender, commenting on how great it was that Bowie was so publicly gender non-conforming. Prince came along a bit after Bowie, became far more famous, and was just as androgynous. Among less well known musicians, Annie Lenox, the lead singer of Eurythmics, frequently wore androgynous clothing. In the New Wave band The Human league, singers Philip Oakey, Susan Ann Sulley, and Joanne Catherall, wore the same makeup. The list goes on….
You can find a lot of androgyny in early 1980s pop music. It was the logical extension of cultural trends that began in the 1960s — guys with long hair and big Afros, the feminist revolution challenging gender roles, and so on. By the early 1980s, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex felt no need to play the role of a sexy girlie lead singer — she could just be herself without being forced into someone else’s (mis)conception of what it meant to be female. Nor was it just the musicians — that’s what people going to clubs, or just listening to the music, were doing, too.
That historic moment didn’t last long. The Reagan revolution rolled back progress in gender. The Clinton years cemented the regression. In this century, everyone seems to have forgotten that nonbinary gender was a thing, before it was even called nonbinary gender. I’d forgotten about it until I started looking at those old music videos from that era. But it did happen. For a few years, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, androgyny was socially acceptable (in the big cities, anyway). As a product of that era, no wonder I’m much more comfortable with nonbinary gender than with the strict gender roles and gender norms that came later.
Personally, I’m glad nonbinary gender is back. I feel it’s much easier than everyone being crammed into the same tiny little gender boxes. Sigh. Too bad Ron DeSantis and the Florida state legislature don’t feel the same way.
One of the reasons some people give for leaving organized religion is that they’re disgusted by the hypocrisy of organized religions in allowing sexual abuse to go on. But from what I can see, all of our human institutions are open to abuse. Schools, politics, the for-profit world, entertainment, sports — all of these human institutions are capable of harboring and hiding abusers.
I’ve come to believe that the next big abuse scandal is going to erupt in school sports. We’ve seen the beginnings of this in girls’ gymnastics, but I think it’s going to get much bigger than that. School sports often require very little supervision of coaches and other adult leaders, and many coaches and adult leaders don’t get much oversight from any authority that can really hold them accountable. We’ve all heard of those schools where the school principal would lose their job if they dared to criticize a winning football coach. But this lack of accountability and oversight is the perfect environment for sexual predators — which means that there’s a high probability that sexual predators have sought out positions in schools sports in order to have access to victims.
Journalists are reporting that the MIAA receives around one new complaint a week. Yet the MIAA is defying state public records law by refusing to make those complaints public. Ironically (or maybe not), the lead journalist working on this story is with the Boston Globe, the newspaper that uncovered the Catholic sexual abuse scandal nearly two decades ago.
Again, speaking from my experience of nearly three decades of youth work, the current situation in school sports may provide the perfect cover for adults who want to abuse kids, whether that abuse involves sexual abuse, humiliation, or some other sick power trip. The solution to the problem is the same as with the church abuse crisis: open and transparent supervision of all adults leading school sports; watchdog groups that don’t engage in cover-ups; expulsion of abusive adults regardless of how charismatic or talented they may be. But at the moment, the school sports juggernaut appears to be even more resistant to reform than the Catholic church hierarchy was twenty years ago.
I was talking with someone about how we were both feeling a bit out of sorts — little things like getting appointments slightly wrong, nothing really serious but constantly annoying. We both had good reasons for feeling a bit out of sorts (for my part, I moved, started a new job, my partner’s father died). But I’ve heard quite a few other people say they feel the same way. So I said to this other person, The pandemic emergency officially ended a couple of months ago, but I feel like it’s still lingering on; I mean, this time last year, we were still in partial lockdown. This other person said, It’s like we all have PTSD. I said, I’m not a clinician, I’m not qualified to diagnose PTSD, but I think you might be right.
It’s that time of year again — if you’re in the northern hemisphere, get ready to pee on the earth! June 21 is annual Pee-on-earth Day, a day to urinate outside.
By urinating outside, you don’t have to use water for flushing. As climate change gets weirder we’re going to have more droughts, so why waste drinking water to flush your pee? Besides, it’s fun to pee outdoors. At least, as long as no one can see you. And if someone can see you, just pee in a bottle and then spread your pee on some needy plant outdoors. Urine makes good high-nitrogen fertilizer, though you might want to dilute it first.
You can learn more about Pee-on-earth Day from its originator, Carol Steinfeld (she’s my spouse) here. She even wrote a book about it titled Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine To Grow Plants. If you want to order a copy, leave me a comment and I’ll try to get you a deal….
Actually, they’re no longer called Unidentified Flying Objects, but rather Unidentified Anamolous Phenomena (UAP). According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, there were 144 UAP reported from 2004 to 2021. Although these remain unexplained, possible explanations include: airborne clutter (including “airborne debris like plastic bags); natural atmospheric phenomena; “developments [by inudstry and government] and classified programs by U.S. entities”; “foreign adversary systems”; and other possible explanations.
NASA recently held a public meeting — a video of this meeting are now available on Youtube — to cut through the cult of secrecy that has long surrounded UFOs…um, I mean UAP. Previously, NASA has spent all its energy debunking UFO sightings. Now NASA is trying to be more open its data collection and data analysis efforts. So, as you’d expect, one of the questions they got during the public meeting was: “What is NASA hiding?”
No amount of public meetings is going to convince people that NASA has nothing to hide. Belief in UFOs is now a part of the U.S. mythos, and the mythos of other so-called developed countries. There are even New Religions Movements based on UFOs, most notably Raelism, for which the influence of extraterrestrial intelligence on humanity is integral to their worldview. Many of these New Religious Movements now downplay any mention of UFOs or alien intelligences (for example, Unarius Academy of Science and Scientology emphasize their self-development coursework, not UFOs). Nevertheless, belief in UFOs remains central to the U.S. mythos. One meeting my NASA is not going to dislodge this firmly-held belief.
Orcas off the Iberian Peninsula have been ramming sailboats, and have even managed to sink three boats, according to Live Science. Humans who claim to be experts on orcas think they know the reason why:
“Experts suspect that a female orca they call White Gladis suffered a ‘critical moment of agony’ — a collision with a boat or entrapment during illegal fishing — that flipped a behavioral switch. ‘That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,’ López Fernandez said.”
I’m mildly skeptical of this explanation only because trauma has recently become a popular human explanation for everything. I don’t mean to minimize the effect of traumatic events on humans (or other organisms). But I’m reminded of the mid-twentieth century when, under the influence of Freudianism, sex was the popular explanation for everything. In that time period, trauma was not regularly invoked to explain mammal behavior, so I can imagine mid-twentieth century cetologists explaining orcas sinking boats as somehow being motivated by sex.
“Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology, a research organization in British Columbia, says ‘there’s something about moving parts … that seem to stimulate them…. Perhaps that’s why they’re focused on the rudders….'”
Ultimately, we humans don’t know why orcas are ramming sailboats and biting rudders. (Actually, we really know why humans do many of the things we do.) I suspect this has become a news story mostly because humans who are part of Western cultures get worried when other animals threaten us or make us feel that we might not be the apex predator. This attitude is in part due to the influence of Western religions — both Judaism and Christianity have a sacred text that claims that a deity gave to human beings the right to have dominion over all other living beings. But orcas have not read the Bible, and they didn’t get the memo that humans are in charge.
Focused as I am on my favorite obscure corners of popular culture, I usually miss the really big worldwide trends. So I was completely unaware of The Wiggles until I read about them on a science fiction fandom blog.
If you too have remained blissfully unaware of The Wiggles, they’re an Australian band that released their first album in 1991. The Wiggles write and perform songs for preschoolers (and their parents); three of the four of original members of the band had degrees in early childhood education.
I did a deep dive into Wiggles subculture today. I listened to a bunch of their music. I read about how children would come to live shows dressed as Emma, the Yellow Wiggle, complete with yellow dress and yellow bow in their hair. More importantly, while watching their videos, I saw how they create developmentally appropriate live performances and videos. Yes they’re primarily entertainers (not educators), yes there are problems with what they do, but on the whole I’m impressed with the way they treat young children with respect.
As one small example of what I mean about treating young children with respect: When they begin a live performance, they do not say, “Hello, boys and girls” — a vaguely condescending formula that leaves out parents — they say “Hello, everyone.” That’s really thoughtful.
I’m also impressed with the way they’re changing with the rapidly chaning culture around them. Take, for example, their video “Di Dicki Do Dum” released last August. In the dance routine, Tsehay Hawkins, the yellow Wiggle, and Simon Price, the Red Wiggle, combine Euro-folk dance with urban dance moves. This kind of cultural mash-up is A Big Thing in the obscure world of folk dance. The venerable Cecil Sharp House in England, center of the universe for many who do Anglo-American Euro-folk-dance, now mixes all kinds of folk dance traditions:
“‘Hip-hop is the folk dance of today,’ said Natasha Khamjani…. They’re both social dances created for crowd participation, both also existing on the fringes of the mainstream, she added. Khamjani was taking a quick break during a rehearsal of a high-energy performance blending Bollywood moves and English country dancing with the unmistakable bounce of hip-hop moves.” [As reported by the BBC]
The Wiggles also make pretty darned good music. Both the singing and the accompaniment in the “Di Dicki Do Dum” video are really well done. The music has to be good. Preschoolers are going to listen to recordings of the sings over and over and over and over again. If the music sucks, parents are going to tear their hair out, and never buy any more Wiggles music or go to any more Wiggles shows.
Looking at The Wiggles videos makes me think about what we do in our Unitarian Universalist religious education programs and in our worship services. Unlike The Wiggles, we’re not in the entertainment business. But if we really want to welcome families with young children, I realized I can learn a lot from them: awareness of developmental appropriateness, respect for audiences, use of dance and movement, respectful cultural mash-ups, and so on.
Having said that, I’m now done with The Wiggles. And trying desperately to forget their songs.