Thursday, December 31, 2009

On people who make the world better

Okay, so at the tail end of a year that's been liberally punctuated with stories of greed, infidelity, dishonesty, and flat-out hatred, it felt like a blessing this morning to hear a story about one anonymous stranger's kindness and generosity to some of the neediest people.
There was something special on the menu at a New York soup kitchen Thursday.

Those eating lunch at the Broadway Community Inc. facility in Manhattan got a taste of the luxury life, thanks to a gift of caviar from an anonymous donor.


Chef Michael Ennes of Broadway Community Inc., told CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallce when he heard of the caviar donation, he thought, "'Yeah, right.'"

But, in fact, it was an honest-to-God 500-gram, $1,100 tin of sturgeon caviar. Reactions at the facility ranged from "Holy crap, it's an $1,100 tin of caviar" to "What the hell are we supposed to do with an $1,100 tin of caviar?" But Ennes was resolute.

We're serving this bad boy, he said.

Of course, the challenge at that point was one of the fishes-and-loaves variety, making one tin of caviar go 150 ways. Ennes and crew served up sour cream and egg whites and yolks and chives on cornmeal blinis with a dab of $1,100 freaking caviar on top.
Diana Conyers, who received a meal at the soup kitchen, said, "I thought it would taste yuck because I never had caviar. It was surprising, it tasted pretty good."

Michelle Seliem and her 8-year-old daughter--who have been living in a domestic violence shelter for five years--loved it.

Seliem said,"It was delicious."

But what did it taste like?

"Fish," she said, laughing.

Though the $1,100 value of the caviar could have covered more meals for the needy, it was the experience that was priceless.

Hosna Seliem told Wallace, "I felt like a princess."

And I think that's kind of the point. These are people who, to put it baldly, eat at soup kitchens. Even at the most well-equipped shelters, they're likely to enjoy an appetizer of four servings of soup stretched six ways. The value of this anonymous gift was not the cash value of the caviar but the experience, for the diners at the kitchen, of setting aside five years in a domestic violence shelter, just for one day, and feeling like a princess. There seems to be a perception these days that if the poor aren't living in dark, squalid tenements and dressing in rags, they aren't truly poor or they don't deserve help. At least one person out there recognized that people who have nothing still deserve to have dignity.
George Evans, a diner at the facility, said, "Whoever donated this, maybe they woke up one morning and said 'I have a little more, let me give.'"

If you realize you have a little more, you can donate (and it doesn't have to be caviar) to Broadway Community Inc. or visit Feeding America to find a food bank in your area.

Happy new year, all. Stay merry and safe.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On protecting the drunks of New York from underpants bombers and masked bandits

Okay, so it's safe to assume that a holiday like New Year's Eve would be, if any day, one targeted for terrorism--there are a bunch of people wander the streets drunker'n hell, and an attack is likely to get a lot of attention and really stick in the minds of the attacked. Which is why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is working to protect Times Square revelers from any threats nuclear, chemical, biological, or Gargamellical:
The NYPD will have radiation and biological detection devices deployed in Times Square, decontamination facilities set up, and sniper teams in position. Backpacks won't be allowed, garages will be searched, and surveillance operations conducted.

Plus, the mayor says, you too can help.

"If you see anything, they'll be plenty of police officers to talk to," Mayor Mike Bloomberg said. "Walk up and say, 'Hey, I may be wrong, but that guy looks nefarious.'"
(emphasis mine)

So this Thursday, New Yorkers, keep your eyes peeled for mustachioed men tying women to subway rails, disembodied metal hands accompanied by fluffy white cats, or a short little guy with a head that looks like a football.

And if you see something shifty, don't be afraid to find the nearest cop and tell him, "Listen, I'm not sure exactly what's up, but there are some guys over there in t-shirts with snakes on them who keep yelling, 'COBRA!'"

I mean, they don't look like they'd be able to make more than a momentary stand before being soundly defeated despite their superior numbers, but better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Santa Claus (there is one)

Okay, so not that radio silence isn't an (unfortunately) increasingly common thing here at Practically Harmless, but I'm going to be taking the rest of the week off to celebrate Christmas with my family. But far be it from me to leave my reader hanging. My Christmas gift to you is not my usual dreck but, instead, the non-dreck of a newsman in 1897 and a little girl who wants very much to believe.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in THE SUN it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? VIRGINIA O'HANLON. 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and safe travels.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On unwed mothers, universal health care, and choice

Or, Sing of Mary, Pregnant and Uninsured

Okay, so I will never not be entertained by the fact that Chuck Norris (who has two speeds--walk and kill) has a column at WorldNet Daily. I believe that everyone is entitled to a voice, and I like the fact that Chuck Norris (who once shot a German fighter plane down with his finger by yelling "Bang") not only has his but has it endorsed by the fine and reasonable folks at WorldNet Daily. If there is anyone whose word should not only be considered but should, in fact, be law, it's Chuck Norris (who doesn't shower--he only takes blood baths).

This week, in honor of Christmas, Chuck (who does not sleep--he waits) takes on the question that's been on everyone's mind: What if the Virgin Mary had had Obamacare?
...[A]s we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder: What would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obamacare? What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obamacare) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, etc.) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Imagine all the great souls who could have been erased from history and the influence of mankind if their parents had been as progressive as Washington’s wise men and women! Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?

It's a reasonable question, of course. There are women all over the country who do end up giving birth simply because they lack the resources to terminate their pregnancy early on. And of the women who do manage to have abortions, whether by obstetrician or by coat hanger, any might have been carrying the next Einstein (or the next Hitler) or the next Fleming (or the next John Wayne Gacy) or the next Shakespeare (or the next John Stamos). So what if the Blessed Virgin had had full access to the range of medical services available to pregnant teenagers?

I seem to have a book here that talks a lot about Mary when she was pregnant. Let's open it up, shall we?

First, we have to consider the image of an unwed girl, fourteenish, who's sitting in her room in Nazareth, hand-weaving a nuptial garment and reading Twilight when a freaking angel comes down and says (Luke 1:28-38),
"Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Holy crap! Mary thinks. What is up? But the angel says,
"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

which one could imagine is a pretty intimidating thing to hear from an angel. And yet faced with the heavy burden of gestating and delivering the son of the Almighty, this 14-year-old says,

"I am the Lord's servant... May it be to me as you have said.

Damn. Not exactly the words of a girl who's going to get rid of it using federal tax dollars later. (Also, fairly ballsy words for a girl who's going to be discussed as a mild little virgin for the rest of her life, but that's another post for another time.)

Now, Chuck (who once ate three 72-ounce steaks in one hour--and spent the first 45 minutes having sex with his waitress) raises the entirely legitimate subject of the ostracism and persecution that would likely accompany her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And the Bible does say that Joseph's initial plan was to divorce her. However (Matthew 1:20-25),
after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

So it sounds like Joseph, too, was on board with God's plan and fairly excited about the prospect of being stepdad to the savior of the world. And we can also consider the fact that, had she changed her mind, even in that time Mary would have had several (not necessarily safe) options for terminating the pregnancy had she so chosen. So it sounds like Mary’s access to abortion coverage would have been pretty moot anyway, making Chuck’s (who once ate a whole cake before his friends told him there was a stripper in it) “what if Mary had been covered by Obamacare” about as valid a question as “what if the three wise men were actually space aliens.”

But that's not the real question. What Chuck (who can, in fact, believe it's not butter) entirely misses is that the wondrous thing about Christmas wasn't that Mary got knocked up and, for lack of health insurance, went ahead and had the baby. She was young and healthy and had the support of a fiance who was (with some angelic prompting) willing to stay with her and help her. The wondrous thing was that when Mary and Joseph were faced with such a formidable and awesome responsibility, they saw it as a gift from God and wanted it very much. Would that every child be conceived under such circumstances and that every pregnant woman have those options. And would that, in modern times, we are able to provide women like Mary all of the help and options they need.

On the wonders/hazards of technology

Okay, so quick survey of my reader. Wishlists on Amazon and other online retailers make things really easy for people who insist on buying us gifts at Christmas, whether or not that's a big deal for us, even if we swear quite sincerely that we don't need or expect anything at all, but the gift-giver insists that we make a list anyway because he wants to buy us something, but he doesn't know what we want, so it kind of feels like making a shopping list and sending him to the mall, but if it makes him happy we go ahead and do it because we love him and want him to be happy, The Boy.

Anyway, these lists frequently include an option to sort items by gifts purchased and gifts unpurchased. They question: Do you peek? Do you check back to the list and see what has already been purchased, or do you choose "purchased items" to sustain the surprise? For that matter, if you have kids, did you want to know the sex of the baby beforehand or wait until the doctor pulled it out and checked the undercarriage? It's kind of the digital equivalent to shaking presents under the tree, albeit a lot more accurate. (The Amazon wishlist is, of course, rather than the sex of the baby. One is discouraged from shaking babies.)

I'll admit: I was a checker. But at the same time, I was a sustainer. Having directed folks to my wishlist, I have gone back a single time with the intention of peeking. And when I did this, Amazon stopped me by hiding all of the already-purchased gifts. "Do you really want to know this?" Amazon asked. "Do you really want to ruin the surprise? You can click here to show the gifts that have been purchased, but if you do, they won't be a surprise." And facing that door, I chose not to peer through the keyhole to see what Godpapa Drosselmeyer had planned for Christmas. The promise of a surprise stands, and the delicious anticipation gets deliciouser and more anticipatory by the second.

Thank you, Amazon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On a woman with her priorities straight

Or, Who's a Good Boy? Who Is a Good Boy? Is That You? Are You the Good Boy? Yes You Are. Yes You Are. You're the Good Boy. Yes Sir. Yes You Are.

Okay, so regardless of politics and my satisfaction with President Obama's performance thus far, I still have a hetero girlcrush on Michelle Obama. I like the way she dresses, I like her attitude, I like the way she is with her kids, and I like the way she manages to seem friendly and approachable while simultaneously non-shit-taking. I've long thought that I'd love to hang out with her for a day.

Now that's been amended to "hang out with her and let our dogs play together." I call this "'I think about how your life has changed, and you're managing a--' 'Whatevs Oprah puppypuppypuppypuppypuppy.'"

1. That is not a dog. That is a stuffed animal. I've seen real dogs, and real dogs do not look that soft and cuddly. They look soft and cuddly, but not that soft and cuddly.

2. Michelle Obama talks baby talk to her dog. I feel much better about talking baby talk to my dog.

3. Look at those paws. Just look at them. Are you looking? Don't you just want to take a bite out of those paws? Don't lie; you know you do.

(Also, don't miss Bo Obama's New York Times op-ed.)

(H/t my guilty pleasure LaineyGossip

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On the various reasons for the season(s)

Okay, so during this morning's Wake Up Alabama on CBS 42 (don't judge me; it comes on right before the Early Show), our girl Shanisty Myers introduced a segment about Briarwood Church's live nativity scene (which is actually pretty pimp--they have live camels) thusly: "Now, we all know the real reason for the season..."

Now, while this particular segment would certainly be considered "Christmas-Friendly" (thanks for the link, Holly, and also, I hate you), it could also be considered "newscast-inappropriate" if only for the fact that its facts are questionable: We don't know that everyone does, in fact, know the reason for the season, partly because we don't, in fact, know exactly what the reason really is.

"ACG, you're just anti-Christian and anti-Christmas and you probably say Happy Holidays and you're going to hell!" The last part may be more or less accurate, as is the next-to-last, but the first two are absolutely untrue. I happen to be a Christian, and I happen to love Christmas. Love, love, love. Love the lights, love the music, love the wrapping paper, love the sudden attention to peace on earth and good will toward men, love Love Actually and The Muppet Christmas Carol and Mickey's Christmas Carol (now available on mp3 via, oh sweet baby Jesus do I love it so.

But that's just the stuff I love about the season. I also like the holiday itself in the sense that I do, in fact, know the reason for Christmas. And I love that, too. I love midnight Mass, I love advent wreaths, I love O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and the high note at the end of O Holy Night (thank you, Beth Campbell, and may God bless you and keep you healthy for the coming Christmas Eve). I love both the solemn and the joyous celebration.

But I can hardly say that Jesus is the reason for the season, because there's a lot going on throughout the season that doesn't involve Him. In addition to Christmas, we have Hanukkah, Muharram, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, and even, if you like, Festivus during the holiday/Christmas season. And for that matter, if we're really interested in celebrating the birth of Jesus, we'll be doing it in late September, when shepherds would be watching their flocks by night and all of the inns would be full (check it). So Jesus is really the reason for the season of early fall.

The upshot is: Learn to share, people. You wouldn't expect the checkout guy at Target to acknowledge your birthday, so why expect him to wish you a merry Christmas when he has no way of knowing if you celebrate Christmas at all? Besides, Christmas is one day (two, if you make a big deal out of Christmas Eve, which I always do). If you choose to have happy holidays, you get 19 days of happy (21 if you count New Year's Eve and Pan American Aviation Day). If you're willing to turn down 17 additional days of celebration just for the sake of laying dubious claim to the whole month of December, you're probably the kind of person who isn't going to have a merry Christmas anyway. So lighten up.

In the immortal words of this year's Gap holiday commercial, "Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go without a tree... I mean, do whatever you wannakah and to all a cheery night."

That means all of you. Seriously. Relax and let it happen.

Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On an issue of safety

Okay, so past posts may have given the impression that I'm not crazy about kids, and that makes me sad, because it's entirely not the case. Parents frustrate me sometimes, though, and I do have one more message to convey:

Forget annoying; letting your kids free-range around a restaurant is dangerous. While your cute little queso-smeared angel is making laps around the tables, it would take a second and a half for some stranger to snatch her up by the armpits and carry her out the door. As much as I value a peaceful dining experience, I would rather be pelted with a thousand tortilla chips than see something bad happen to your kid.

Please, please, please look after your kids.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

On the second verse (same as the first)

Okay, so I thought my faithful reader might be interested in an update on my recent hassle with Artur Davis in re: the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. If you'll remember, I sent him a sincere, deeply felt e-mail imploring him to sign Representatives Diana DeGette's and Louise Slaughter's letter of opposition to Nancy Pelosi. His reply went a little something like this:
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts and concerns regarding abortion services within the health care reform package. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.


I have joined other members of Congress in urging Speaker Pelosi to include language in any final healthcare reform bill that makes clear that no federal dollars can be used to finance coverage of an abortion...

As you might imagine, I was somewhat... frustrated by his response. I promptly sent a response to his response, not unsimilar to the corresponding blog post (although somewhat less profane), expressing my dismay that he obviously didn't even read my previous e-mail, that his views and values on the matter were obviously in direct contradiction to mine, and that I obviously won't be voting for him in his future gubernatorial efforts.

It took him not a week to respond:
Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts and concerns regarding abortion services within the health care reform package. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter...

Dude. You have to get better interns. Also, fuck you, Artur Davis.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On Christian charity and good will

Okay, so in this holiday season, I think it would do us well to remember the words of Jesus when he said, "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you demanded two form of identification, established that my parents hadn't gone through the proper channels to immigrate from Bethlehem, and told me that Santa wasn't coming this year because I was a filthy criminal":
They don't claim to know who's been naughty or nice, but some Houston charities are asking whether children are in the country legally before giving them toys.

In a year when more families than ever have asked for help, several programs providing Christmas gifts for needy children require at least one member of the household to be a U.S. citizen. Others ask for proof of income or rely on churches and schools to suggest recipients.

The Salvation Army and a charity affiliated with the Houston Fire Department are among those that consider immigration status, asking for birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children.


The Outreach Program requires parents to show photo identification and birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children. [Lorugene] Young said she makes an exception if parents can show they have applied for legal status or that a child is enrolled in school.

Young said, "It's not our desire to turn anyone down. Those kids are not responsible if they are here illegally. It is the parents' responsibility.”

Um, yeah, Lorugene, you're absolutely right. It's not the kids' responsibility. And it would suck to deny them Christmas presents because of something that's entirely beyond their control. So why don't we try... not doing that.

This isn't the first time the Salvation Army has let politics and discrimination get in the way of good will and charity. In both San Francisco and New York, the S.A. has been willing to close shelters and cut programs for the needy rather than comply with legislation requiring that any businesses that have partnerships or contracts with those cities offer domestic-partner benefits. And they fought hard--successfully--to enjoy federal funds without sacrificing their policy that "unrenounced" gays are "ineligible for Salvation Army soldiership."

And now they want to deny Christmas to little poor kids. Wow. Nice going, there, S.A. Right Christian of you.

Commentary around the Web (and at the bottom of the linked article; never read the comments at the bottom of the article, never) seem to fall into the category of "WTF? What a bunch of douches. It's Christmas, ferfuckssake" or "There are too many Americans in need right now. These people need to just get Christmas presents from their own damn country." To the latter, all I can say is, "Poor children. Poor children, motherfuckers. Little poor children. Regardless of how they ended up in this country, they are poor children. It's not a matter of teeny little border-jumpers stealing teddy bears from the arms of good, clean-living American toddlers. It's a matter of not punishing little kids for what their parents have done and telling them they don't get Christmas because they don't belong here."

And what sucks is that a Salvation Army bucket may be the closest thing a person gets to charity the entire year. I know that personally, unless it's a collection plate or a ringing handbell, I frequently don't think about donating at all. And while I know so many people hate the incessant ringing outside of every store they visit at Christmastime, I absolutely love it and have always seen it as the ultimate symbol of what Christmas is supposed to mean: generosity, compassion, thinking about someone other than ourselves for one damn time in our lives. I don't know if I'll be able to look at it that way anymore, knowing that my handful of change wouldn't make it to some of the people who need it most.
Luke 18:16: "But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

We should expect nothing less from a Christian charity.

Little poor children, ferfuckssake.