Chanticleer #28

Chanticleer
I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. 

Henry David Thoreau

June 1, 2001

“Chanticleer Calls”, an aperiodic newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.


Graduation

My daughter graduated from high school last week. We had about a dozen family members and her boyfriend attend, and of course we wanted to sit together for the 10:00am ceremonies at the Tarrant County Convention Center.
When they opened the doors at 9:00am, I joined the small-sized landrush of parents and relatives speed-walking to the seating area to stake claims. Within 5 minutes, most of the lower-level choice seats were either occupied, or had programs draped across them indicating they were being saved.

I chose the seat-saving technique of laying umbrellas across the twelve seats I was saving, six in one row and six in another. The family next to me used purses and hats. Immediately upon saving the seats, everybody picked up their cell phones and called family on their way to tell them, “We’re in Section 214, closest to the stage!”

As 9:30 approached, when I was expecting her mother and grandparents, one of the “EVENT STAFF” in a bright yellow windbreaker walked over to the family next to me and asked the mother if the umbrellas were hers. She shook her head, no. Without bothering to ask anybody else, he starting picking them up.

I interrupted and informed him that they were mine, and that I was saving the seats for family who were on their way.

The EVENT STAFF replied, with a Snively-Whiplash malicious glee, “There are no reserved seats in the arena. It’s arena policy. The rules are, anybody can sit anywhere they want.”

I’ll spare you the details of the ensuing conversation, which touched on the lack of wisdom of arena management practices, communication of policies and practices to attendees, the nature of human behavior, the notion of selective and arbitrary enforcement of policies and procedures, and a somewhat-expletive-filled reference to Thomas Paine’s essay on “Common Sense.”

Oh, and my retraction of a previously-held belief that military security guards were the only people on earth who were actually paid to NOT think.

The family next to me witnessed this conversation. Realizing they were in the same predicament, we decided to “cooperate to graduate,” as we used to say at the Academy. She recruited some girls from another group just below us and we arranged the people who were there in an every-other-seat pattern to discourage any ‘intruders.’ Fortunately, my dad and stepmother arrived, followed by my sister and her family, and then my -ex mom, her folks, and and the boyfriend, and we were able to sit together as planned.

Nehh, neh-nehh-neh, neh!

Another family in front of us wasn’t so lucky. About 9:45, two loud, obnoxious women arrived to declare their indignation that this was public property and nobody owned these seats and they were by-God going to sit in a good seat. They found the EVENT STAFF, who practically sprinted down the aisle to escort the women to fourth-row seats that were obviously being saved.

The shocked couple whose family had unfortunately not yet arrived ended up losing four of their eight seats. Because – yup! …. once seated, the two loud, obnoxious women each immediately declared another seat … “saved.”


Jeffords’ Choice

I was a little taken aback by the media frenzy over the decision by Vermont Senator James Jeffords to declare himself a “not a Republican” instead of a “Republican.”

I mean, isn’t this just a simple case of changing a label?

Apparently not. It seems the consequences of this change are rather significant, since it gives the party labeled as “Democrat” a one-vote ‘majority’ over the party labeled as “Republican.” This means that the composition, and more importantly, the leadership and certain staff positions of the Senate committees, change, according to the rules of the Senate.

So in a sense, you could think analogically (if that’s a word, and if it’s not, it ought to be) in terms such as:

  • The ‘stuff’ hasn’t changed, but
  • The box that holds the ‘stuff’ HAS changed, so
  • The whole warehouse has to be rearranged.

or

  • The territory hasn’t changed, but
  • The color of the territory on the map HAS changed, so
  • The whole shelf of maps has to be rearranged.

This is not to mention the more cataclysmic prognosticated consequences of Senator Jeffords’ label change … … “a severe blow to the Bush strategy” … “portent of a tidal wave shift to the center” … “defection of Benedict Arnold proportions” … “a colossal breakdown of Bush’s vaunted political operation.”

All resulting from a decision to call himself this instead of calling himself that. Because of the rules that govern this and that.


Hair Do Rules

The May 25th Dallas Morning News reported a hair controversy in the Dallas Police Department regarding a crackdown on “dreadlocks.” Some officers had been wearing that style, and the similarly-banned “cornrow” style, for as long as two years without hassle.

A special assistant to the chief of police explained: “The bottom line is that we have to comply with the general orders. There’s a misconception out there that one group is being targeted, and that’s not true. Everything and everyone needs to be in compliance.

The “general orders” referenced were guidelines developed in the ’70s.

The offending hairstyles are worn primarily by black officers, male and female, who are now subject to being placed on administrative leave if they refuse to lose their ‘dos. Some of the officers have met with representatives to discuss legal remedies. However, the Texas Peace Officers Association, “the largest black police association in Dallas, is backing the ban on dreadlocks.”

The article reports that police departments in other major cities allow the dreadlocked ‘do if the hair follows other guidelines. In Baltimore, an officer of Rastafarian belief, is suing the department to allow him to wear the style for religious reasons. The ACLU attorney handling his case admits that, “If the grooming standards are not a religious issue, the courts don’t seem to be very receptive.

[I wonder how the dreadlocked and cornrowed officers reacted to an article in the paper two days later that featured a photo of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, outspoken activist for the black population, sporting a new, cornrow-derivative ‘do. Price admitted it was stylistically adventuresome for him, but “even his mother liked it.”]


Father’s Day – BIG(amist) TIME

Tom Green, a devout 52-year-old Mormon who also happens to be an outspoken polygamist with five wives (ages 24 – 31) and 25 children, has been convicted of bigamy in Utah. The DMN (May 20, 2001) reports that he’s the first Utah man so convicted in almost fifty years.

His sentencing date is June 27th, which he proudly notes is the 157th birthday of Joseph Smith, founder and Prophet of what is now known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Smith’s doctrine advocated “plural marriages,” but in order for Utah to gain statehood in 1896, the church changed its rules – now it excommunicates polygamists. (Now there’s a policy flip-flop; you’d hope a century is long enough for the memo to get circulated.)

In his defense, Green claims that he’s being selectively prosecuted, that he’s being persecuted for his religious beliefs. And he asks a legitimate question … why is it a crime for him to acknowledge and embrace his fatherhood and his husbandhood, when it would NOT be a crime if he simply had multiple affairs and multiple children out of wedlock?

Why does the law punish behavior that’s labeled “marriage”, but doesn’t punish the ‘same’ behavior that’s labeled “adultery”?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not supporting Mr. Green. Give me a break – he married his first wife when she was only 13 years old. (Coincidentally, she’s the daughter of a woman who was involved in the last bigamy prosecution in 1953. You could say, literally, that polygamy is “in her blood”.)


Whites, Coloreds, and a Greyhound

May 4, 2001, marked the 40th anniversary commemorating the heroic desegregation confrontation precipitated by thirteen young “Freedom Riders”. Seven blacks and six whites left Washington, D.C. aboard a Greyhound bus in 1961 enroute to New Orleans as a consequence of the 1960 Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in interstate transportation facilities.

They never reached New Orleans because of the violence they encountered in Alabama.

In Anniston, on Mothers’ Day, a mob of 200 stoned the bus and slashed the tires. As the bus stopped outside of town to change a tire, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the bus and set it afire.

In Birmingham, one of the whites and one of the blacks were arrested for violating the state’s segregation law. James Zwerg, the 21-year old white rider, was jailed for three days.

For sitting on a bus next to a black man.

When I was in the first grade. Fourteen (14!) years after Jackie Robinson won Rookie of the Year. Six (6!) years after Rosa Parks.

In Montgomery, after a crowd of white men yielding ax handles stopped the bus, Zwerg was dragged through the streets. He suffered three broken vertebrae and had hot tar smeared on his forehead.

For riding on a bus with blacks. Which, until the Supreme Court decision of 1961, was forbidden by state law. When I was in the first grade. Four (4!) years after Little Rock High School.

The same year that Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics to their 4th NBA championship.


“Want fries with that? May I see your passport?”

Three Hindu-Americans in Seattle filed a lawsuit on behalf of vegetarians and Hindus against McDonald’s restaurants on May 1st, alleging that McDonald’s intentionally misrepresented their products.

In 1990, the fast-food chain announced that it had changed to using “100% vegetable oil” to fry its french fries, instead of beef fat. According to the May 20th article in the Dallas Morning News, “legions of Hindu Americans and vegetarians” began to consume what they believed to be “vegetarian” french fries.
Hindus, of course, consider cows as sacred and killing cows as sinful.

Last month, the India West newspaper reported that McDonald’s seasons its fries with beef flavoring in the factory before being shipped out to its restaurants, where the “100% vegetable oil” awaits. Therefore, to strict vegetarians and Hindus, eating beef-seasoned potatoes fried in “100% vegetable oil” is religiously tantamount to gulping down Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

I find the comments of one of the plaintiffs peculiarly … enlightening. Mr. Brij Sharma, an electrical engineer for Boeing in Seattle, allowed his son to take a job with McDonald’s last year. (I guess the Hindu rules don’t preclude followers from aiding and abetting others with their beef, as long as it pays minimum wage and includes family discounts.) Their family subsequently “consumed countless bags of fries”, believing they were labeled as “vegetarian.”

Mr. Sharma is quoted: “I feel sick in the morning every day, like I want to vomit. Now it is always there in my mind that I have done this sin. I am now planning to go to India to take a dip in the Ganges. I am thinking that it should reduce my sin. But the damage is already done.

Recapping, in other words:

  1. Mr. Sharma eats french fries for a year, based on the premise they are properly labeled as “vegetarian”, and encounters no problems;
  2. He reads a newspaper story;
  3. Since reading the newspaper story, he feels sick to his stomach every morning;
  4. He believes he has to travel to India to bathe in the Ganges River in order to relieve himself of his sin;
  5. He has to wash the outside of his body to cleanse the residue of what he has internally consumed.

What I find enlightening, and particularly insightful in a way I’m sure he didn’t intend, is his observation that (with my emphasis): Now it is always there in my mind that I have done this sin.

Could it be that … if the ‘sin’ results from what’s in the mind, which stems from a belief, could the belief actually cause the ‘sin’? And the sick-to-his-stomach feeling every morning … is the nausea the result of the food (days or weeks past), or the result of his dwelling on the ‘sin’?

In the meantime, McDonald’s has posted one of those corporate conditional apologies (you know, of the “IF there was confusion … THEN we apologize” ilk) on their website, buried down four levels. They contend that they’re sensitive to the prevailing local customs, tastes and traditions … they DON’T add the beef flavoring in India, but they DO add it in the United States. They also make the distinction that the claim of “fried in 100% vegetable oil” does not imply “vegetarian.”


Afghan (non-verbal) Labels

Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban has decreed that all non-Muslims must wear distinctive labels on their clothing to identify them from the Muslim majority. According to the Washington Post report, the largest minority group in the country is Hindu, and number only about 500.

The Taliban news agency reported the measure was needed in order to “prevent disturbance to non-Muslim citizens.”

Uh-huh … just like those yellow Stars of David that prevented the Jewish populations of Germany and Poland from being “disturbed” in the 1930’s.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed to the Taliban to not implement the decree.


Pick One, But Not Both [expletive deleted]

Two high school tennis players from Bearden, Tennessee were disqualified during their doubles match for the state championship for swearing in frustration.

According to the Associated Press, one of the boys lost his serve in the third and deciding set and exclaimed (proclaimed?) “Jesus Christ!”

Whereupon Jan Genosi, the official presiding over the match, stopped play and awarded the match to the competition. According to Genosi, the state tennis association rules call for automatic disqualification for a first offense for “visible or audible profanity or obscenity or physical abuse of a player of official.”

A peculiar aspect of this rule is what constitutes “profanity.” According to Genosi, the rule allows a player to yell “Jesus!” or scream “Christ!” but you can’t put the two words together to exclaim “Jesus Christ.”

Now you know.


United Way Aids Gays

The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has announced it will fund The Resource Center of Dallas, a non-profit group that provides education, support and services to predominantly gays and lesbians. This marks the first time the United Way of Dallas has funded a group that primarily serves the gay population.

Jesse Gonzalez, the United Way’s senior vice president for community investment, stated, according to the Dallas Morning News of May 17th:

“Institutionally, to accept an openly gay and lesbian organization would have been pretty difficult 10 years ago – it would have stirred discussion about them being gay. But our discussion was what service do they provide and do they have good outcome measures – the same criteria as other organizations. I think that’s progress.”

Ms. Sabrina Slater, spokeswoman for the Dallas United Way, noted that the agency’s mission statement is “to improve the quality of life of all people by responding to priority health and human service needs.” She explained, “We cannot exactly say we’re helping to improve the quality of life of all people if we’re not reaching out to diverse groups.


Rue ‘da Rules

I don’t know … my thought is, we probably have too many rules, and too few exceptions.

We have ill-conceived rules, and ill-received rules. We have rules made by those with dubious authority, and rules that are ignored by those in the majority. We see the illogic in cider house rules (see earlier Chanticleer Calls), but then we expect to find answers with even more rules. We fail to examine the underlying premises upon which the rules are based, and cast a mere glance at the consequences those rules might embrace.

I like Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay on “Self-Reliance”:

“The virtue most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It [Conformity] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.”

“No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.”

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own. But the great man is he who in the midst of
the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

So here’s to independent solitude amidst the summer crowds!