Archive for December, 2011

“Children of The Light”

December 23, 2011

If time goes by any faster, we’ll all be a thousand years old in about a half hour.

Here we are at another year’s end with Christmas 2011 behind us and 2012 so close we can almost get there holding our breath.

New Year’s Day — our planet’s only truly global holiday.

The Winter Solstice has been a major marker in human existence since the dawn of mankind – celebrated by every significant culture in recorded history – and it’s no wonder.

Imagine the joy in ancient days when – after months of every darkening diminution — the sun finally begins to return all over the world.

In Ireland, the village of Slane is forty-five miles northwest of Dublin. On its ancient castle grounds have played The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springstein, Bob Dylan and U-2. On the Hill of Slane, Saint Patrick proclaimed Ireland to be Christian in 433 A.D. by lighting a paschal fire. The burial chamber at Newgrange is on the banks of the River Boyne a few miles to the east. It is over five thousand years old.

The Newgrange chamber is a huge, circular, man-made mound of white and black boulders, largely covered with earth and grass. It measures two-hundred and forty feet across and is forty-four feet high, occupying over a full acre. Discovered and uncovered by accident in 1699, the entrance overlooks a broad bend in the river. A narrow tunnel leads seventy feet down into the earth. Visitors are only allowed in small groups after arrangements are made with the proper authorities. Passage is slow. A central chamber contains three rooms – a trinity – all openly facing into the single center. Water has never penetrated the surrounding rocks. Construction was by master architects. It was built for the ages. The spiral markings are everywhere. Their meaning is unclear.

Our Irish tour guide suggested to me with whispered reverence that recent archeological findings indicate the mysterious structure was the work of Tuatha de Danann — “The Children of the Light” — a magical tribe said to have arrived in Ireland on flying ships — hundreds of years later choosing to vanish into the ground upon the arrival of uninvited foreigners rather than defend themselves with horribly powerful instruments at their command– fearsome options abandoned by unanimous group consensus and never since known.

A small opening over the entrance is aligned so that the sun’s rays penetrate and illuminate the chamber with a fiery red glow only once each year at the exact point of the Winter Solstice. It is seen as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The effect lasts less than twenty minutes.

Newgrange is two thousand years older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

It is perspective.

And it is inspirational to consider that the utter abandonment of weapons of mass destruction has at least one mythological precedent, perhaps even offering a New Year’s Resolution of infinite promise and ultimate merit.

As the same sun shines upon us all.

Children of the Light.

“Whilst you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light. These things Jesus spoke; and he went away, and hid himself from them.”

John 12:36

“Rudolph The Red”

December 9, 2011

Hundreds of festive folks, many having donned gay apparel, gathered again this year in Oakhurst to greet the arrival of Santa Claus in his North Pole Fire Department truck and witness the lighting of an impressive community Christmas tree next to that now internationally famous Talking Bear thanks to Facebook. There was magic in the air with the Winter Solstice set to mark the Sun’s sharpest turn away from us only days distant.

In such a setting, personal memories from many a Christmas Past instantaneously spring forth, flooding our minds and imaginations without further summons — surging in a powerful torrent of cherished recollections joyously unleashed by sparkling ornaments, jingling bells, and seasonal songs snugly nestled in our minds since early childhood.

It was Christmas of 1949 when the legendary Gene Autry recorded a quaint little Christmas offering based on a character established a decade earlier by Robert L. May in a Montgomery Ward coloring book. The original story was presented as a poem in the same meter as the classic “It Was a Night Before Christmas” with song lyrics written for Mr. Autry by May’s brother-in-law, radio producer Johnny Marks. Want a quick Holiday bar bet? “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released on November 25, 1949 and shot to the top of the charts, becoming the first #1 Hit of the 1950’s. In its first year, “Rudolph” sold two and a half million copies nationwide and made Laurence A. Johnson crazy.

Mr. Johnson was the owner of four major supermarkets in Syracuse, New York. I was a nine year-old fourth grader in Syracuse attending Madison Elementary School, where my mother was President of the Parent-Teacher Association, more commonly known as the “PTA.” Laurence Johnson was unabashedly conservative in thought, word and deed – considering himself a super patriot and signing on as a major supporter of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy after a speech the Senator gave in Wheeling, West VIrginia.

On Lincoln Day, February 9, 1950, a mere month after “Rudolph” guided Santa’s sleigh to unparalleled heights, Senator McCarthy dramatically announced: “I have here in my hand a list of 205 names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department”, recklessly playing fast and loose with the truth as was his style. From that point onward, McCarthy continued to exploit a rabid fear of Communism, gaining him a powerful national following, including Mr. Johnson in Syracuse.

After ruining the lives and crushing the careers of thousands of innocent Americans “blacklisted” by unproved accusation and secret allegations, McCarthy was finally revealed as the monster he was by Edward R. Murrow of CBS on “See It Now” in March of 1954 before a stunned audience of millions. Officially condemned by the U.S. Senate on December 2, 1954 in a bipartisan vote of 67 to 22, McCarthy died of acute alcoholism on May 2, 1957 at the age of 48, going down in history as a scurrilous scar on our common past, but not before influencing Laurence A. Johnson to launch a savage attack against Syracuse radio stations during the 1950 Christmas Season for playing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” due to the chromatic hue of Rudolph’s proboscis — that is — his COMMIE RED NOSE!

To those of Johnson’s fanatical ilk, RED represented “Godless Communism.” It was the RED Army that defeated General Anatoly Pepelayev and his WHITE Russian Army in 1923, bringing Trotsky, Lenin, Marx and Stalin to power. It was the REDS and their RED Chinese allies we faced in warfare against North Korea in June of 1950. ”Better DEAD than RED!” screamed Syracuse billboards.


Mrs. Cavanaugh of the PTA was not inclined to suffer fools. Widowed with two young sons and working full-time as a Medical Secretary with additional freelance writing on the side for spare change, she drafted letters to the Syracuse Post-Standard and Herald Journal which were published and endorsed by the Editorial Boards of both papers. Her position was clearly stated without ambiguity or qualification. Laurence A. Johnson was wrong. His assault on “Rudolph The Red- Nosed Reindeer” was simply silly — a bold, unwarranted intrusion into private lives and innocent childhood — flying in the face of common sense and basic decency — utter nonsense by any measure. And she wasn’t shopping at Johnson’s Fine Foods one more second, thank you.

Greeted by overwhelming ridicule reaching universal proportion, Johnson dropped his Anti-Rudolph efforts without further controversy or comment, although continuing wild flag-waving efforts as a major contributor to the John Birch Society in subsequent times.

But as I saw our Oakhurst Community Tree burst into brilliant Christmas colors December 3rd and heard the strains of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” echoing through the local crowd, I thought of Mrs. Cavanaugh — and trust she is pleased.

I might even say she glows!

“No Hedging on Pledging”

December 1, 2011

I was pleased and honored when District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler unexpectedly passed me his microphone at the start of our last Town Hall Meeting at the Oakhurst Community Center with a request that I lead the packed hall in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I trust I acquitted myself reasonably well, although I almost started with a speedy “Sign of the Cross” from my Irish Catholic upbringing, rote memory offering its challenges. But then, our National Pledge of Allegiance has always seemed more of a prayer than a presence – a fierce aspiration more than a finalized achievement – particularly the “Liberty and Justice for All” part. But it’s that “Indivisible” word that I worry about these last few years. We are surely more  divided now than ever before in my lifetime as a country. But not as a community.

It’s an impressive measure of Supervisor Wheeler’s dedicated leadership that his quarterly “Town Meetings” here in Oakhurst — and Ahwhanee — and North Fork– and Bass Lake – and now adding Yosemite Lakes Park/Raymond after recent Census adjustments, all combine in uniting Eastern Madera County into a remarkably cohesive political whole.

If you haven’t been attending any of these informal, yet informative little get-togethers, you really should.

Our last Oakhurst meeting on November 17th was fairly typical. Tom was not the only County official in attendance presenting himself for public accountability. Sheriff John Anderson was there to discuss a number of issues, from barking dogs and area burglaries to library safety and concerns about the homeless. Cal Fire Chief Nancy Koerperich addressed the red hot topic of Rural Fire Fees, also discussed through speaker phone by State Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen. Jill Yeager, Director of the Madera County Environmental Health Department, provided an update on septic system regulations, even as Mono Indians representative Charlie Altekruse spoke briefly on the possibility of a new casino on Highway 99 in Madera. You get the idea.

Supervisor Wheeler always works from a prepared agenda, moving things along as rapidly as meaningful discussion allows and closing with a request for questions, comments, criticisms  or any other observations from those in the audience with no subject off limits. It’s all fairly remarkable and everyone seems to get along, playing well enough together to make our parents proud and former teachers smile.

On the 17th, I chatted with and introduced my wife to local Tea Party Coordinator, John Pero. I waved across the room to Greg Chapell, a Madera County District 5 Republican Committee Member, even as I am on the Board of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Club of Oakhurst. Greg and I share a table most First Fridays for spiffy spaghetti dinners at Our Lady of the Sierra.

I never cease being amazed at how much we all truly share in common and agree upon past all the flag waving, cliché clattering, democracy dismantling forces of Talk Radio.

We all seem quite together over our concerns regarding “The Great Wall of Coarsegold”, the need to realize maximum efficiency and efficacy throughout County operations in the face of horrendous reductions in staffing and funding and the desire to defend local enterprise against the gargantuan intrusion of big business.

It’s interesting to reflect that things seem incredibly possible with a direct interface between politicians and the general public — the elected and the electors. No back room bargaining. No secret deals. No lobbyists. 

Just folks getting together and talking things over.

Like a Tom Wheeler Town Meeting.

— “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (1863)