Elijah Cummings — A Brief Tribute

“Our Congress & our country has lost a champion for justice, a fighter for good, an honorable and zealous leader.” – Democratic U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who was a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades. Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives. He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better.” – Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland

“There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings. I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff—please pray for them. I will miss him dearly.” – Republican Representative, Member of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows

These are but a few of the comments that could be heard today following the announcement that U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings has died.  People on both sides of the political chasm were deeply saddened to hear of his death.  Let me tell you just a little bit about this man …

Born on 18 January 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland, his parents were sharecroppers.  But Elijah rose above his beginnings, graduating from law school at the University of Maryland School of Law, receiving his J.D. in 1976.  He practiced law for 19 years until 1996 when he successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has served tirelessly ever since. Elijah-4Elijah came of age in the Civil Rights era, and got his first taste of racial hatred when he was eleven years old.  He and his friends were getting too big for the small, shallow public pool where they had been spending the summer of 1962 …

“As a matter of fact, it was so small, we had to wait turns to get in.”

But there was another pool, and someone they knew as “Miss Mitchell” told them they could swim there.  It was Riverside Park Pool, an Olympic-size pool that was theoretically open to all, but the reality was somewhat different.  So, Elijah and his friends headed over to the pool, and for a few days enjoyed swimming there.  Until … hordes of arrogant white people, numbering nearly 1,000, showed up carrying signs that read “Keep Our Pool Germ Free”, “Go Back Where You Came From”, and “White People Have Rights Too”.

The mob surrounded the pool, held back by a line of police with K-9 dogs, while the kids tried to splash and play. Then, over the police officers’ heads, the mob threw rocks and bottles. One of them hit Cummings in the face, cutting his eyebrow and leaving a scar he carried all his life.  Perhaps it was this that led Cummings to a lifetime of fighting for justice.

While Cummings has long been an advocate for Civil Rights, and has fought for justice since his early days, he first came onto my radar in the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray in Cumming’s district in Baltimore.  He gave an impassioned speech at Gray’s funeral in April 2015, promising “we will not rest until we address this and see that justice is done.”

In early May of that year, charges were filed against the six officers who were involved in the murder of Freddie Gray, and riots erupted in the city.  Elijah Cummings defused the situation, placing himself between the crowd and the police, and urging protestors to go home, to be peaceful.  (Not a single one of the officers involved in Gray’s death was convicted)Elijah-3Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Cummings this morning …

“It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power every day. And true to the giants of progress he followed into public service, Chairman Cummings stood tallest and most resolute when our country needed him the most. May his example inspire more Americans to pick up the baton and carry it forward in a manner worthy of his service.”

Elijah-2.jpgElijah Cummings was one of the good guys.  There are too few of them left, and he will be sorely missed.Elijah-1

A Day In Honour Of Indigenous Peoples

Today in the nation’s capital, there is no Columbus Day. The D.C. Council voted to replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a temporary move that it hopes to make permanent. Several other places across the United States have also made the switch in a growing movement to end the celebration of the Italian explorer in favor of honoring Indigenous communities and their resiliency in the face of violence by European explorers like Christopher Columbus.

The simple facts are that Christopher Columbus did not ‘discover’ the Americas … the indigenous people were always here.  And, at the hands of Columbus and those Europeans who would come after, the indigenous people, aka Native Americans, suffered greatly from being enslaved, diseased, dispossessed of their land, and slaughtered.  So, over the past few decades there has been a growing movement to alter the holiday to honour those who first occupied the country.

The movement is controversial, for we tend to cling to the traditions we have known all our lives, but it is a growing movement, with a number of states and cities doing what D.C. did, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.  Thus far, the states of Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, Maine, Louisiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Oregon, have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day on this date, and South Dakota celebrates Native American Day, as have many cities too numerous to list here – more than 130, in fact.

Trump, however, instead has issued a formal proclamation recognizing Columbus Day, citing Columbus as a “great explorer, whose courage, skill, and drive for discovery are at the core of the American spirit,” calling the two-month journey across the Atlantic a “watershed voyage” which ushered in a new age.  But then, in this I consider him to be rather irrelevant.

So … how did this all start?

In 1977, the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, began to discuss replacing Columbus Day in the United States with a celebration to be known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

1992 would mark the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus, and there was a “Quincentennial Jubilee” planned to mark the date.  In San Francisco, the day was to include replicas of Columbus’ ships sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their “discovery” of America.  It was then that the Bay Area Indian Alliance was formed, and they created the “Resistance 500” task force, promoting the idea that Columbus’ “discovery” of inhabited lands and subsequent European colonization of these areas had resulted in the genocide of indigenous peoples by decisions of colonial and national governments.

The group convinced the city council of Berkeley, California, to declare October 12 as a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” and 1992 the “Year of Indigenous People”. The city implemented related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” beginning in 1992 to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the losses suffered by the Native American peoples and their cultures through diseases, warfare, massacres, and forced assimilation.indig-peoples-day.jpgIn the years following Berkeley’s action, other local governments and institutions have either renamed or canceled Columbus Day, either to celebrate Native American history and cultures, to avoid celebrating Columbus and the European colonization of the Americas, or due to raised controversy over the legacy of Columbus.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the many contributions indigenous people have made to our world:

  • indig-peoples-day-3Constitution & Bill of Rights: According to Benjamin Franklin, the “concept” for the federal government was influenced by the Constitution of the Iroquois League of Nations.
  • Sign Language:  Today, hand signals are used to communicate with those who are deaf and/or mute. A similar system was originated to facilitate trade between Native Americans and early trappers/traders.
  • Products:  Native Americans are credited with introducing such diverse products as snowshoes, moccasins, toboggans, buckskin jackets, Kayaks, cradle boards, tomahawks, rubber, cotton, quinine, tobacco, cigars, and pipe smoking, among others.
  • Military Service:  The participation rate of Native Americans in military service is higher than for any other ethnic group in the U.S.  Members from many Indian nations have served with distinction and in a way that helped the U.S. win World Wars I and II… through the use of their various Native languages.
  • Conservation:  The Native Americans have always held a deep respect for the land and for our connection to this planet known as “Mother Earth.” They have always striven to live in harmony with the seasons and the land, to take only what was needed, and to thank every plant, animal, or thing that was used.
  • Art/Design:  The traditional and contemporary music of Native Americans have become integrated in many other cultures and musical styles. Indian artwork such as paintings, beadwork, totem poles, turquoise jewelry, and silversmithing, all remain beautiful and unmatched in this society.

Native-American-Day-Wampanoag-220px-SquantohowwellthecornprosperedAnd of course, a wide variety of foods, including potatoes, beans, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, peppers, nuts, melons, and sunflower seeds.

We can never make up to the indigenous people in the Americas for what was done to their ancestors, but we can resolve to do better, and we can honour them in this way, by setting aside a special day of remembrance for all that they went through, and for all that they have given. celebrate-500-years-of-survival

♫ Leaving On A Jet Plane (Redux) ♫

This is a repeat of a song that I played the day after this date last year to mark the death of singer John Denver in a plane crash on October 12th, 1997.  Listen to what Mama Cass has to say at the beginning, for I think that her words back when they did this song are every bit as relevant today as they were when they sang this song in 1972.


Yesterday marked the 21st anniversary of the plane crash that killed singer John Denver.  I was not aware of it yesterday, else I would not be a day late in playing this song, but friend Ellen informed me of the occasion yesterday afternoon.  Ellen also kindly pointed me to a video clip that seems appropriate to mark the occasion of Denver’s death at age 53.  The clip comes from Burt Sugarman’s show, The Midnight Special on August 19, 1972.  This episode was filmed less than three months before the presidential election that would see Richard Milhous Nixon begin a second term that he would not complete.  According to the IMDB …

John Denver guest hosted this Pilot (Episode 1) with guests that included: Mama Cass, The Everly Brothers, The Isley Brothers, Harry Chapin, Linda Ronstadt, Argent and Helen Reddy. The theme of this pilot was to encourage the youth that had reached 18 years to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The voting age had just been lowered to 18. The two biggest issues, at that time, were Watergate and the war in Vietnam. Among the musical highlights were Harry Chapin performing his hit “Taxi”, Linda Ronstadt sang her popular ballad “Long Long Time”, Helen Reddy sang “I Am Woman” and the Britsh group Argent performed their 1972 hit “Hold Tour Head High” [sic]. Wolfman Jack appeared on camera as the main host and announcer and previewed upcoming shows, which he would do for the series’ 8 year run.

In this clip, Denver is joined by ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot, formerly of the Mamas and the Papas, and the two do a duet of Leaving on a Jet Plane, a song that had been made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1967.  Interestingly, Cass Elliot would die of heart failure less than two years after singing with John Denver.

Denver wrote the song in 1966.  It turned out to be Peter, Paul and Mary’s biggest (and final) hit, becoming their only No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.  This one surprised me, for I am a fan of PPM, but Leaving on a Jet Plane is not my favourite of their works.

At any rate … in honour of John Denver, a day late, I give you …

Leaving on a Jet Plane
John Denver & Cass Elliot

All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’
It’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’
He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

There’s so many times I’ve let you down
So many times I’ve played around
I tell you now, they don’t mean a thing
Ev’ry place I go, I’ll think of you
Ev’ry song I sing, I’ll sing for you
When I come back, I’ll bring your wedding ring

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time
Let me kiss you
Then close your eyes
I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

But, I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

Songwriters: John Denver
Leaving on a Jet Plane lyrics © Reservoir One Music, Reservoir Media Management Inc, BMG Rights Management

SMILE 😊

Remember on Jolly Monday I told you there would be a surprise on Friday?  Well … it’s Friday!  And … {🥁 Drumroll 🥁} it is World Smile Day!  Yes, there really is such a thing … let me tell you just a bit about it.

You know those cute smiley emoticons  🙂 that most of us use multiple times a day to convey mirth or joy?  Well, those icons have a history and that history is linked to World Smile Day … and naturally, I am about to tell you a bit about the history behind the smiley and the day.

harvey-ballThe year was 1963.  Harvey Ball was a commercial artist who had started his own company, Harvey Ball Advertising in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1959.  A local company, State Mutual Life Assurance Company, hired Ball to come up with an image to increase employee morale which was at an all-time low following a recent merger.  What he created was a smiley face, with one eye bigger than the other. In less than ten minutes, Harvey Ball came up with the simple yet world-changing smiley face. The simplicity of the image brought smiles to the faces of the executives, who paid him a whopping $45 for his creation.  That image went on to become the most recognizable symbol of good will and good cheer on the planet.

That $45 was the only financial reward Harvey ever saw from his creation, but here’s the neat thing about Harvey … he didn’t care.  According to his son, he always said, “Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time.”  Now that’s an attitude I’d surely like to see more businessmen have!

Anyway, time went by, and the smiley face caught on like wildfire. By 1971, the smiley face was the hottest selling image in the country: an estimated fifty million smiley buttons alone had been sold, and the image appeared on countless other products as well. But Harvey Ball became concerned about the over-commercialization of his symbol, and how its original meaning and intent had become lost in the constant repetition of the marketplace.  And of that concern was born World Smile Day!  Harvey felt that all of us should devote one day each year to smiles and kind acts throughout the world.

Harvey declared that the first Friday in October each year would henceforth be World Smile Day, and thus it has been since the first one in 1999, not just in Worcester, Massachusetts, and not just in the U.S., but around the world!  Take a look …

Sadly, Harvey died two years later, but even today his legacy lives on, not just in the form of recognition of World Smile Day, but in the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation that was created to honour his name and his memory.  The Foundation is a non-profit charitable trust that supports children’s causes. The group licenses Smileys and organizes World Smile Day, which takes place on the first Friday of October each year and is a day dedicated to “good cheer and good works”. The catchphrase for the day is “Do an act of kindness – help one person smile”.  I like that, don’t you?

Now, we see those smileys just about every day, in a wide variety of colours and in the last few years there is an entire encyclopedia of smileys, some of which are doing almost everything but smiling! 😏 🙄 😬 🤤 But Harvey’s original smiley is unique, distinguishable from all the others.  A Harvey Ball smiley face can be identified by three distinguishing features: Narrow oval eyes (with the one on the right slightly larger than the one on the left), a bright sunny yellow color, and a mouth that is not a perfect arc, which has been claimed to be similar to a “Mona Lisa Mouth”. The face has creases at the sides of the mouth, and the mouth is slightly off-center (with the right side a little higher than the left) and the right side of the mouth is a slightly thicker than on the left.Havey-Ball-smileyAnd now that you know the origin of the smiley, and you know that today is World Smile Day, how ‘bout going out there and doing just one small kindness for someone?  Anything … help a neighbor carry in his or her groceries, buy a friend lunch, help an elderly person across the street or up the stairs, just something … anything.  You know what … you’ll bring a smile to that person’s face, but since smiles are contagious, you’ll get a smile back in return.  Oh, and by the way folks … in case you need an extra, I’ve left a basket of smileys by the door … feel free to take one … better yet, take two and share one!Monday-basket-smiles

This post is dedicated to our friend Ellen, who told me about World Smile Day last weekend, and then reminded me last night, which was fortuitous, for I had forgotten.  This one’s for you, Ellen.

smiley

11 September 2019 … Memories – Redux

Until last year, I have published a post each year on September 11th, sharing memories of that day in 2001 when life changed, my thoughts and reflections.  This is the post that I first published in 2016, repeated it in 2017, and I am repeating it, with some updates and additions, this year, because as I read over it, I realized that I cannot say it any better today than I said it three years ago.  I skipped my 9/11 post last year, for I felt that amidst the chaos and divisiveness of this nation, it had lost its relevance.  I was wrong … we need to remember … we must not forget, we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we have learned anything in the 18 years since our world turned upside down in a matter of minutes.

*Good People Doing Good Things will be posted this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. EDT


Humanity

911-cover-4Eighteen years ago.  It seems so much longer … another lifetime.  And yet … and yet, it seems like such a short time ago. I remember the morning well.  A key staff member was on vacation and I had to cover, so I arrived at work well before dawn, but I stepped outside sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 for a smoke break.  The sky was the bluest I could recall ever seeing it and I thought it must be the most perfect day ever.  Within a half-hour, I would be left in tears, cursing the day, hoping to awaken from this nightmare.

911-cover-9I went back inside from my smoke-break, and an employee, Susie, came up to me and asked if I had heard about the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.  If the building I worked in then had not since been demolished, I could show you the exact tile I was standing on at that moment, just as I could tell you that when we received news of the assassination of JFK, I was at home plate with bat in hand, waiting for the pitch that would never come.  Just as my grandfather often told exactly where he was and what he was doing when the news of the attack on Pearl Harbour came over ‘the wireless’. You think it is a literary trick when an author says “time stood still”?  Well, I can tell you … for me, time did stand still, as I must have also.  I seemed to have lost all feeling, all senses shut down … I could not hear nor see.  After that, it all blurs into a series of news updates … a 2nd plane, then the Pentagon, then a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the name Usama bin Laden.  A gathering in the cafeteria, a television rolled into another room where we all gathered.  Financial statements, payroll, printing presses and the like forgotten for the moment.  Tearful phone calls home to the girls.  Then day after day, glued to the television every waking moment.  In my household, we had a then-6-year-old and finally had to turn to Nickelodeon, but the images remained in our eyelids, in our hearts, in our souls. And the tears never stopped.

911-cover-2Today we mark the 18th memorial of that awful day.  We do so in many ways, but the saddest thing for me is that we did not learn the lessons we needed to learn from that tragedy.  Today, our nation is more divided than ever.  In the days and weeks that followed what would become known simply as 9/11, it seemed we were on the right path.  People from all over the nation and Canada traveled to Ground Zero to help with search and rescue, and eventually cleanup operations.  Shopkeepers gave out free food and water.  People helped neighbors, friends and strangers.  We all empathized with each other, treated each other a little kinder, gave a bit more freely of our hugs and kind words.

Compare and contrast to today, when we are a nation divided by hatred, divided by a lack of understanding for those who do not look, act or think like us.  And there are many who blame today’s vitriolic environment on 9/11, those who decided to hate all who share a religion with the plotters and perpetrators of the horrific acts of 9/11.  But it doesn’t stop there … our nation has renewed its call for racial discrimination, religious intolerance, and hatred of those who are perceived as ‘different’ in one way or another.  We have lost our way.


Commercialism

That which “we will never forget” has already been forgotten by some, it would seem.  A mattress company releases the following ad:

“Right now, you can get any sized mattress for a twin price!” says a grinning woman flanked by two employees in the 20-second spot. She flings her arms out and the men tumble backwards, knocking over two tall piles of mattresses. The woman screams “Oh my God!” in mock panic, then immediately recovers her composure and adds, with a half-smile: “We’ll never forget.”  It quickly attracted local, then national outrage. The ad was taken down, and Mike Bonanno, the owner of Miracle Mattress, issued the following statement:  “I say this unequivocally, with sincere regret: the video is tasteless and an affront to the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11.” 

How did he not realize how “tasteless” it was before it aired?

9-11One Wal-Mart, in conjunction with Coca-Cola, erected a display to “commemorate” the 9/11 anniversary.  It was taken down after much criticism.  And other companies have also tried to use 9/11 for sales and profit.  It is not a commercial holiday. We do not celebrate with hot dogs and beer. It is a day of national mourning.  It is a day of solemnity.  Commercialism has no place on this day, no right to use it as a gimmick.  Can you imagine Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy being commercialized?  There was one commercial ad that truly was a tribute to the day.  It aired only once, in 2002.  I still find it to be a beautiful tribute and it still brings tears.  Please take just one minute to watch it.

Before airing the commercial, Anheuser-Busch sought and received approval from Congress, as well as then-mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. There is no company logo until the end, and since it aired only once, given the cost of producing the ad, the company made no profit from it, nor did they intend to. It truly feels like a tribute rather than a cheap shot. It was tasteful … respectful.


Positive, Encouraging, Hopeful Messages

In 2016, in a rare display of partisanship, 200 members of Congress stood on the steps beneath the recently restored Capitol dome and prayed, observed a moment’s silence and, accompanied by a marine band, sang God Bless America to mark the imminent anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The remembrance ceremony, with Democrats and Republicans standing side by side, was heartening, though it would have been much more so had all 535 members of Congress participated.  Will we see that repeated this year?  I doubt it.

I understand that Donald Trump plans to attend a 9/11 memorial today.  I will not watch, for he only desecrates the day with falsehoods and I can never forget that, after the towers fell, he bragged that now his was the tallest building in the city.


I end where I began, by saying that we have lost our way, we have failed to learn from this, and to some extent we have failed to keep our promise to “never forget”.  The nation is more bitterly divided, more everything-phobic today than it was prior to 11 September 2001.  Rather than embracing our differences, we are using them as an excuse for hatred.  Rather than loving our fellow man, we are killing him.  Unless we learn to unite and work together for the sake of not only our nation, but of humanity, we are doomed to repeat the past. I would ask the readers of this blog to do this one thing:  be kind today, do not put anyone down, offer a smile to any you see, and hug your family just a little tighter today … just for today. Below are just a few pictures I would like to share, to remind us all of that day.

911-1

911-4

911-dust-lady

Marcy Borders, the ‘dust lady’, sadly died 25 August 2015 of cancer related to 9/11

ground zero

twin-towers

 

Mandela Day …

I did not realize that today is Mandela Day, until I was skimming my e-mail late this afternoon and came across this one from the Obama Foundation …

Obama-foundation-logo

Hi Jill,

Ten years ago today, the world celebrated the first-ever Mandela Day, on Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday. Mandela himself was honored, but he emphasized that the day should not be a holiday to recognize him, but a day devoted to service. “Our struggle for freedom and justice was a collective effort,” he said. “Mandela Day is no different.”

Now, ten years later, I’m asking you to take part in another collective effort—to dedicate your time toward improving your own community.Obama-MandelaNo gesture is too small; no act of service too modest. Whether you donate books to your local library, volunteer at a shelter, or commit to mentoring someone in your neighborhood, every action is a step toward building a more gracious, more generous world. That is the world Mandela himself sought to build.

Earlier this week, the Obama Foundation convened 200 of Africa’s best and brightest young leaders in Mandela’s home country of South Africa to help them sharpen their skills, share their hopes and ideas, and build a network that can help chart the future of the continent. But before they left our Leaders: Africa convening, they gathered together to volunteer at a nearby primary school.

They didn’t sign their names on murals or stand idly by, waiting for recognition—these leaders simply gave their time in service. It’s the kind of example that true leadership demands. And I can think of no one who better defines that spirit of leadership than Madiba himself.

So this Mandela Day, commit some time to making a difference in your community. But don’t do it for yourself or even just to recognize him; do it because it’ll make our world better.

Thanks,

Barack Obama

Mandela-1Nelson Mandela International Day aka Mandela Day, is an annual international day in honour of Nelson Mandela, celebrated each year on 18 July, Mandela’s birthday. The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held on 18 July 2010.

The Mandela Day campaign message, according to a statement issued on Mandela’s behalf is:

  • Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes.
  • We would be honoured if such a day can serve to bring together people around the world to fight poverty and promote peace, reconciliation and cultural diversity.

A little bit about Nelson Mandela.

By the time of his death, within South Africa Mandela was widely considered both “the father of the nation” and “the founding father of democracy”.  Outside of South Africa, he was a global icon, with the scholar of South African studies Rita Barnard describing him as “one of the most revered figures of our time”.

When some attempted to portray Mandela as a modern-day messiah, his response was …

“I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

gandhi-king-mandelaHe is often cited alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of the 20th century’s exemplary anti-racist and anti-colonial leaders.  Mandela’s international fame had emerged during his incarceration in the 1980s, when he became the world’s most famous prisoner, a symbol of the anti-apartheid cause, and an icon for millions who embraced the ideal of human equality. In 1986, Mandela’s biographer characterized him as “the embodiment of the struggle for liberation” in South Africa.

Mandela generated controversy throughout his career as an activist and politician, having detractors on both the right and the radical left. During the 1980s, Mandela was widely labelled a terrorist by prominent political figures in the Western world for his embrace of political violence. According to the UK’s Margaret Thatcher, for instance, the ANC was “a typical terrorist organisation”. The US government’s State and Defense departments officially designated the African National Congress (ANC) as a terrorist organization, resulting in Mandela remaining on their terrorism watch-list until 2008.

In the words of South African historian/biographer Bill Freund …

“The significance of Mandela can be considered in two related ways. First, he has provided through his personal presence as a benign and honest conviction politician, skilled at exerting power but not obsessed with it to the point of view of excluding principles, a man who struggled to display respect to all … Second, in so doing he was able to be a hero and a symbol to an array of otherwise unlikely mates through his ability, like all brilliant nationalist politicians, to speak to very different audiences effectively at once.”

Mandela-2Like Gandhi, King, and a handful of others, Nelson Mandela left the world a little bit better place than he found it.  This is something few of us will achieve, but that we should all strive for.Mandela Day

The Man & His Dog

It was on a Saturday afternoon just over two years ago that I first noticed the man and his dog in the reading area of our local Barnes & Noble bookstore.  It was obvious that the dog was a service dog, but the man did not appear to be blind or disabled, although he did not look quite well, either.  Though I was dying to speak to the dog, give him a pet or two, I did not approach, for I know that you aren’t supposed to distract a service dog. barnes-noble-2.JPGThe girls and I frequent this bookstore nearly every Saturday, weather permitting, except on weekends that daughter Chris has a band commitment, and I had never seen the man and his dog before that particular Saturday, yet several staff members appeared to know him well enough to greet both the man and the dog.  After an hour or two, we left the bookstore and I put the man and the dog out of my mind.

The next Saturday when we went, there were the man and the dog again, in the same place.  I noticed a little more, such as that the man had next to him a large tote bag, and every so often he would reach in and get a treat for the dog.  The dog was mostly well-behaved, but occasionally curious about somebody passing by and as he started to follow them, the man would give the lead a little jerk.

And this was the pattern for the next several Saturdays.  I learned the dog’s name before I knew the man’s, for occasionally the man would say, “Skipper … lie down”, but Skipper never spoke the man’s name.  One Saturday early on, a young boy around 8 or 9 came into the bookstore and, as is the nature of a boy, he gravitated over to Skipper to pet him.  The boy was of Middle-Eastern descent, a cute little guy with glasses as thick as Coke bottles, and while his English was quite good, he had a distinct accent.  The man seemed to brighten in the presence of the boy.

As the weeks passed, the man, recognizing me as a ‘regular’, began to occasionally make a bit of small talk, and I learned his name was Chad.  The boy, also, became a regular … his name was Mohammed.  Mohammed and Chad bonded, and they each gave something of value to the other.  Mohammed gave Chad, I think, a sense of purpose, and Chad gave Mohammed lessons in history, English, and just about any topic that came up in their conversations.  And Mohammed loved Skipper.

Over time, our bits of ‘small talk’ progressed, and we would have robust conversations, often delving into politics, and of course the ‘man’ in the Oval Office.  As we learned a bit about each other, I told Chad that I write a socio-political blog, but that these days it is more political than social, and I offered to email him a link to my blog, but he informed me he had no computer, only his cell phone, and no email address.  He asked if I could print a few and bring them to him, which I did, and he said he enjoyed them very much.

We became friends of a sort, I sometimes took little treats for Skipper, and Chad offered to take the girls and I out for dinner one Saturday evening, but we had just come from the restaurant across the street.  Chad always had a warm hug waiting for me. He could converse on nearly every topic imaginable, had traveled far and wide, and knew something about everything under the sun.  He shared so much of this knowledge with Mohammed and it was heart-warming to watch them together.

Admittedly, sometimes the conversation was a bit more than I wanted, when I really wanted time to quietly peruse a few books, but Chad seemed so lonely that I never had the heart to walk away from a conversation with him.  I discovered that he had no family nearby, he was 70 years old, his wife long since dead, and he had lived with his mother until her death, and that he was in very poor health.  The reason for a service dog was that he frequently had seizures, and Skipper could detect them before they happened and warn him to sit or lie down.  He was hospitalized a number of times during the year and a half I knew him, but he rarely missed a Saturday at Barnes & Noble.

Everybody … well, most everybody … loved Chad & Skipper.  The staff at the Starbucks café loved them, the bookstore staff did, and most of the regular customers came to know and love them.  People would wander over and chat for a few minutes, some even brought treats for Skipper.  A few customers occasionally seemed annoyed at finding a dog in the bookstore, but they were the exception.

Christmas 2018 was just over a week away, and I knew we wouldn’t be going to the bookstore for a couple of weeks, so I brought a Christmas card for Chad & Skipper, and we talked for a bit.  His daughter and son both lived in Florida with their families, and they had been trying to convince Chad to move to Florida where they could help him.  He didn’t want to go, had lived in Ohio for most of his life, and yet, he really had no life here.  His life was the public library and Barnes & Noble, for he spent every day, seven days a week at one or the other place, and yet, I rarely saw him with a book.  He came there for companionship, for someone to talk to.

That was the last time I saw Chad & Skipper.  When the holidays were behind us, the girls and I resumed our Saturday ritual, but for several weeks I didn’t see Chad.  I finally asked a friend of mine who works at the bookstore, and she told me that they had gone to Florida for Christmas but would be back in the spring.  It is now July, and they haven’t returned, so I’m pretty sure his kids convinced him to stay down there.  I have only seen Mohammed once since then.

So, you ask, what is the purpose of this little story?  Nothing, really, just musing on how sometimes people wander unexpectedly into your life, stay a short time, then they are gone, but yet they leave behind a little piece of themselves, a memory that brings a smile.  I will always cherish the memory of that brief year-and-a-half, and Saturdays in the bookstore chatting with the man and his dog.

Saturday Surprise — A Celebration of A Grumpy Life

It is with great sadness in my heart that I must bring you the news:  Grumpy Cat has died.  😢

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Now, I can hear you saying that Saturday Surprise is supposed to be fun, not sad, and that the death of the world’s best-known Grumpy Cat is not a happy thing.  I agree, but … this post is not about Grumpy’s death, but rather about her life … rather a tribute, a celebration of her life in pictures.grumpy-3.jpgGrumpy Cat was rather the ‘Maxine’ of the feline world. Grumpy’s real name was Tardar Sauce, and while I always thought Grumpy was a he, he was in fact a ‘she’.  I guess I just think of grumpy beings as male.  (No comment from the peanut gallery here!)  Grumpy’s perpetual scowl, that earned her the nickname Grumpy Cat by which the world knew her, was actually caused by a form of dwarfism.grumpy-4She first achieved some level of Internet celebrity in 2012, after pictures featuring her frowning face went viral on social media, then turned into a mean-mugging meme.  It wasn’t long before Grumpy Cat was everywhere. She appeared on TV, popping up in episodes of “American Idol,” “The Bachelorette” and WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.”grumpy-5.jpgIn 2013, Grumpy beat out “Gangnam Style” and the “Harlem Shake” to win Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards. The following year, she scored her own Lifetime holiday movie, “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” a two-hour spectacle featuring the voice talents of actress Aubrey Plaza as the title character. Two years later, she made her Broadway debut, a one-night only appearance in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, “Cats.” Of course she did.grumpy-6In 2016, her sculpture was added to Madame Tussauds Las Vegas — and the cat was invited to curl up alongside her own wax figure.grumpy-tussaud.jpg

Grumpy Cat had amassed nearly 4 million combined followers on Instagram and Twitter, with a Facebook page that boasts 8.5 million likes.

In 2013, Grumpy became the official “spokescat” for Friskies cat food.

There is even a Grumpy Cat online store, Grumpycats.com, where you can find hundreds of products available for purchase, from ugly Christmas sweaters and laptop sleeves to drink coasters and guitar straps — all of them, of course, bearing the cat’s famous frown, usually along with a similarly surly message.

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grumpy-bookGrumpy wasn’t a huge fan of holidays …

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Grumpy Cat’s death is indeed sad, but you know what?  She will live on forever in both our hearts and on the Internet, for there must be at least a million pictures and memes out there.  And I close with a short video of some of her finest moments …

 

♫ My Way ♫ … Annnnnnnd …

Okay, so … on Monday, I was taken to task for failing to commemorate the 69th birthday of one of my faves, Stevie Wonder.  It was subtly suggested, by our dear friend Ellen, that I might be forgiven if I played a nice Happy Birthday tribute a day late.  Which is what I did … a lovely tribute to Mr. Wonder, if I say so myself.  And Ellen did commend me, but at the same time noted rather pointedly that I managed to miss the 21st anniversary of the death of Frank Sinatra!  Oy Vey!  I am naught but a feeble-minded old woman and can barely remember that my name is … um … well, that’s not important now.

Ellen correctly noted that I have never played a Sinatra song here, and the reason is that I thought perhaps he wouldn’t have a mass appeal, though I grew up on Sinatra and like his voice and much of his music just fine.  At any rate, the suggestion was to play his iconic song, My Way, as a tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes.  I debated, for I was rather more inclined to play New York, New York.  And finally, I threw up my hands and said “What the heck … I shall offer them both”.  Since the lyrics are on-screen with the first video, I present only the lyrics to accompany the second.

The lyrics to My Way, released by Sinatra in 1969, were written by Paul Anka and set to the music of the French song Comme d’habitude co-composed and co-written (with Jacques Revaux), and performed in 1967 by Claude François. Anka’s English lyrics are unrelated to the original French song. The song was a success for a variety of performers including Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Sid Vicious. Sinatra’s version spent 75 weeks in the UK Top 40, a record which still stands.

Paul Anka heard the original 1967 French pop song, Comme d’habitude (translation: As Usual) performed by Claude François, while on holiday in the south of France. He flew to Paris to negotiate the rights to the song. In a 2007 interview, he said, “I thought it was a shitty record, but there was something in it.” He acquired adaptation, recording, and publishing rights for the mere sum of one dollar, subject to the provision that the melody’s composers would retain their original share of royalty rights with respect to whatever versions Anka or his designates created or produced. Some time later, Anka had a dinner in Florida with Frank Sinatra and “a couple of Mob guys” during which Sinatra said “I’m quitting the business. I’m sick of it; I’m getting the hell out.”

Anka went back to New York and re-wrote the song for Sinatra …

“At one o’clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?’ And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near.’ I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was ‘my this’ and ‘my that’. We were in the ‘me generation’ and Frank became the guy for me to use to say that. I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out.’ But that’s the way he talked. I used to be around steam rooms with the Rat Pack guys – they liked to talk like Mob guys, even though they would have been scared of their own shadows.”

Anka finished the song at 5:00 in the morning, called Sinatra who was performing in Vegas, and the rest is history.

Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, at the age of 82, after a heart attack.  The next night, the lights on the Empire State Building in New York City were turned blue, the lights at the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor, and the casinos stopped spinning for one minute.  Wow … now that’s a tribute!

New York, New York
Frank Sinatra

Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

I wanna to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap

These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
And find I’m a number one, top of the list
King of the hill, a number one

These little town blues, are melting away
I’m gonna make a brand new start of it
In old New York
And
If I can make it there
I’m gonna make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York
New York
New York

Songwriters: Fred Ebb / John Kander
New York, New York lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

♫ I’m Getting Used To You ♫

Last month I made a promise … and I broke it.  I rarely give promises, unless I am 99% certain that I can keep them.  And I could have kept this one … even made a note to do so … but, I forgot.  I could make some excuses, but instead I will simply say “I’m sorry” and try to make up for my perfidy.

Yesterday, April 16th, would have been the 48th birthday of Tejano singer, Selena (just for the record, that is pronounced Say-Lay-Nah).  Sadly, on 31 March 1995, Selena was brutally murdered by Yolanda Saldívar, a woman Selena had long considered a friend.  I won’t share the details here, but if you’re interested, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive summation of the events leading up to the murder.  For today, though, even though I am a day late, let’s focus on her life and her music, shall we?

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez  was her full name, though she went by simply ‘Selena’.  She was a singer, songwriter, spokesperson, model, actress, and fashion designer. Called the Queen of Tejano music, her contributions to music and fashion made her one of the most celebrated Mexican-American entertainers of the late 20th century.

Billboard magazine named her the top-selling Latin artist of the 1990s decade, while her posthumous collaboration with MAC cosmetics became the best-selling celebrity collection in cosmetics history. Media outlets called her the “Tejano Madonna” for her clothing choices. She also ranks among the most influential Latin artists of all time and is credited for catapulting a music genre into the mainstream market.

Tonight, in honour of what would have marked her 48th birthday, I play for you I’m Getting Used To You.  Though left to my own devices I might have selected one of her Spanish pieces, our friend Ellen, the person to whom I owe apologies for a promise broken, rather indicated that she likes this one, and it is a beautiful song … sung by a beautiful woman.

I’m Getting Used to You
Selena

Wasn’t like me to fall in love
That’s just the way that I was
But now when I feel you holding me
Something inside just tells me you’ve gotten to
This heart of mine
And now I know it’s true ’cause darling I’m
Darlin’ I’m starting to find

I’m getting used to you
Ooh and I’m loving every single thing about you
I’m getting used to you
And I could never get used to living without you

Didn’t think that a love could mean that much
But you sure changed my mind with your touch
Never knew that my heart could need you so
Now I know that these arms can’t let you go
No they wouldn’t even try
‘Cause I’m sure that you’re the one that I
Oh one that I need in my life

I’m getting used to you
Ooh and I’m loving every single thing about you
I’m getting used to you
And I could never get used to living without you

Ohh [Repeat x3]

You’ve gotten to this heart of mine
And I know its true ’cause darlin’ I
Oh darlin’ I’m starting to find
You’re the one I need in my life

I’m getting used to you
Ooh and I’m loving every single thing about you
I’m getting used to you
And I could never get used to living without you
Ain’t no living without loving you

Songwriters: Diane Eve Warren
I’m Getting Used to You lyrics © Realsongs