saint nicholasAs you may know, “Saint Nicholas became a priest, and later, a Bishop of the early Catholic Church. True to the Christian concept of giving up belongings and following Christ, St. Nicholas gave up all of his belongings.

“He was well known for giving to needy people, especially children. There are many stories and tales of him helping out children in need.”

What I had somehow missed, though, was that St. Nicholas Day commemorates his death on December 6th.”

Arthur linked to the Vlogbrothers’ call for more celebration. The AmeriNZ writes: “These days, people don’t celebrate enough… Most of us ignore the little things, and not so little things, that go on all the time. We need to celebrate the little things, the small victories, because they make the bigger ones possible.”

I think this is fundamentally true. And maybe it’s because the world is scary, and life can be difficult, I think it’s more important than ever.

Arthur also linked to an Apple video called Share Your Gifts. “In the ad, a young woman is creative, but won’t share her gift with the world until the dog intervenes. I have found this can happen in real life…

He wondered if “a certain subset of Americans would be outraged that the ad is called ‘Holiday’, but it really has nothing to do with any one particular holiday, does it?”

Well, maybe someone will take offense. But the Bible is filled with Scripture that discuss sharing gifts.

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 12 – that’s cited as 1st Corinthians, BTW – “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit…”

My Saint Nicholas Day wish is that we express joy, appreciating our gifts and the gifts of others. These could be wonderful presents that cost nothing in terms of money, but may pay dividends nonetheless.

Sikh-TruckdriverOver Thanksgiving weekend, CBS News ran a story, at least twice, about a nationwide shortage of truck drivers. To my surprise, more than 30,000 Indian-American Sikhs have entered the trucking industry just in the past two years.

“More than 50,000 drivers are needed to meet the demand. One group of drivers, Indian-Americans who practice the Sikh faith, may well be a big part of the solution…

“‘For Sikhs, they want to keep their articles of faith, turban, unshaven hair, beard, moustache — it’s a safety hazard for a lot of jobs that require it. So in trucking, they can keep everything, and still make a decent living,'” trucker Mintu Pandher indicated.

“Pandher bought a used tractor-trailer 13 years ago. Now he owns nine rigs, plus a truck stop in Laramie. With so many Sikh truck drivers, he even added a Sikh temple to his truck stop. And his kitchen offers Indian specials that attract new fans as well.

“But it’s more than a friendly truck stop that’s drawing Sikhs to a career behind the wheel. Recruiting videos that look like something straight from Bollywood promise a glamorous future…”

Overdrive magazine notes “Sikhs have been a growing part of America’s professional driver force for three decades.” The Economist indicates the Sihks have an “outsize part of Canadian trucking.”

This got me to thinking how desirable a reasonable immigration policy looks like. The idea that we should let in only those with specific skills seems limited, not just for them but for us. After all, those Sikhs didn’t know they were going to become truckers whey started coming to the US in the 1980s.

From the American Immigration Council: “Many people assume that their family immigrated to the United States legally, or did it ‘the right way.’ In most cases, this statement does not reflect the fact that the U.S. immigration system was very different in the past and that their families might not have been allowed to enter had today’s laws been in effect.”

But some things haven’t changed much. Read of the process immigrants went through when they arrived at Ellis Island in the late 1800s. It included waiting and long lines, a barrage of questions, detention, and hearings

“The definition of who is ‘legal’ — and who is not — changes with the evolution of immigration laws. In some cases, claiming that a family came ‘legally’ is simply inaccurate — unauthorized immigration has been a reality for generations.”

Listen to Immigration Man – Graham Nash

Won’t you let me in, immigration man
Can I cross the line and pray
I can stay another day

vanilla extractMy daughter had taken some course in middle school that involved cooking. Yes, the class had BOTH boys and girls. One of the things the students could NOT bring to school was vanilla extract. But they COULD bring imitation vanilla.

Vacationing with my wife’s family this past summer, one of my in-laws wondered whether imitation vanilla contained alcohol. I surmised that it did not. If it did, why allow it and not permit vanilla extract in school?

But I had not looked it up util the next day, when I found an intriguing 2015 article called Why Don’t You Buy Vanilla Extract in a Liquor Store? The subtitle notes it is “the same proof as vodka or rum, yet we buy it at the supermarket. Here’s why.”

“You have to go back to the years just before Prohibition, when trade groups and manufacturers… realized that the only way to save their industries was to lobby politicians to write in legal loopholes that would allow them to continue operating.

“Vanilla extract doesn’t just rely on alcohol to extract the essential flavors and fragrances from the vanilla bean and suspend them in a stable solution—it’s also required by law to have an alcohol content of at least 35 percent. (Vanilla extract is also the only flavoring deemed important enough for the federal government to officially define standards for.)

“In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was made the law of the land, and the U.S. was, at least on paper, now an alcohol-free country. But the actual legal mechanisms for enforcing the amendment weren’t in place yet.

“Seeing their last chance to avert disaster, [the Flavor and Extracts Manufacturers Association] flooded congressmen with telegrams… By the time the Volstead Act went into effect the following year, it included a clause that made an exemption for flavor extracts—as long as they were deemed non-potable and a reasonable person wouldn’t want to drink them straight.”

The story has more fun facts, especially about money, but also concerning what a “reasonable person” means.

Imitation vanilla is made from synthetic vanillin, which is the compound that naturally occurs in vanilla beans and gives it that distinctive flavor.” It is cheaper and contains no alcohol.

Those are the rules in the United States. How does the rest of the world treat vanilla extract?

For ABC Wednesday

Ozzy OsbourneIn December 2017, I was waiting for a bus from Troy to Albany on a very cold, toes-freezing evening. This seemingly drunk guy was at the bus stop, ranting, “Ozzy Osbourne has a s**load of money. He don’t have to work at all.” I know not the antecedent to that rant.

The thing for me about Ozzy is that I know for nothing about his music, either with Black Sabbath or as a solo artist. Yes, he has sold more than 100 million albums. I know he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his band since 2006.

Yet I find him oddly interesting. I did watch a few episodes of the first season of The Osbournes (2002-2005), a “reality” show about life with him, his wife Sharon, son Jack and daughter Kelly.

It was weird, and irritating. I kept at it a bit to see if I could figure out why some of my friends were so gaga for it. I’m still not sure. But, among other things, the show “normalized” Ozzy. It also helped propel Sharon into a talk show career and stoked the kids’ showbiz careers.

Ozzy had this Las Vegas show in October 2018. “After his five-decade reign as the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne is bidding farewell to the global tour life…” although it won’t end until 2020.

And he was supporting a good cause. “Love Hope Strength (LHS) is saving lives one concert at a time. Since 2008 they’ve been hosting marrow donor drives at concerts and festivals across the globe via their Get on the List campaign, which encourages people to sign up for the International Bone Marrow Registry with a simple cheek swab.”

Oh, and that drunk guy was right. The guy born John Osbourne but “known as Ozzy since grammar school was raised in Birmingham, England and left school at fifteen to work.” The Godfather of Heavy Metal has a net worth of $220 million.

Coverville 1241: Ozzy Osbourne & Black Sabbath Cover Story

george herbert walker bushI’ve had complicated feelings about George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, for a long time. I don’t remember him as a Congressman from Texas in the 1960s, but I do recall his tenure as ambassador to the United Nations (`1971-1973).

Then he was named the chairman of the Republican National Committee, trying to negotiate a fine line between supporting the party and trying not to be disloyal to Richard Nixon, who was becoming increasingly mired in the Watergate scandal. His loyalty to the President, while consistent with his military training, made me mighty uncomfortable.

George Bush seemed suited to be the U.S. representative to China at a point when Sino-American relations were warming. He was passed over for Vice-President twice by Gerald Ford.

He ran for President in 1980 and was totally correct when he dubbed Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down fiscal plan as “voodoo economics.” Yet Reagan tapped Bush to be his Vice-Presidential candidate, and of course, they won.

I’m not much into conspiracy theories. But I’ve long wondered if the release of 52 Americans held hostage from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, Inauguration Day was more than a coincidence. Some cite Reagan’s tough talk, but I looked more at Bush’s CIA connections, where he was the director for a year, mostly in 1976.

Interestingly, I have few strong recollections of George H. W. Bush’s eight years as Vice-President (1981-1989), other than some odd perception that the man, whose plane was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire during World War II was some sort of patrician “wimp.”

I do recall the nasty 1988 Presidential campaign, first against Republicans such as Senator Bob Dole (KS), Congressman Jack Kemp (NY), former Governor Pete du Pont (DE) and conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson.

His acceptance speech referred to the “thousand points of light” as a vision of the United States. He picked largely unknown lightweight senator Dan Quayle (IN) as his running mate.

Though Bush found it difficult to articulate what he wanted to accomplish as president — “the vision thing”, he called it – “he handily beat Governor Michael Dukakis (MA) in the general election.” He was helped by some sleazy ads suggesting that his opponent was soft on crime. The media attack was orchestrated by the infamous political strategist Lee Atwater.

As the Los Angeles Times noted:

“During his single term in the White House, the Berlin Wall fell, newly democratic states sprang up across Central and Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union came to an end.” For a time he had an 89% approval rating.

George Herbert Walker Bush passed historic legislation, including the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990). On the other hand, he nominated to the Supreme Court the very problematic Clarence Thomas (1991), and not just over the sexual harassment allegations.

“But the end of the Cold War also signaled the end of an era of American bipartisanship that the long conflict with the Soviets had fostered. Bush, the product of an earlier era, seemed out of phase with a younger, harder-edged generation of conservatives rising in his party.”

His real undoing was going back on his convention pledge: “Read my lips: no new taxes” in response to “a short, but sharp, recession that took hold in 1990 and raised unemployment…” He lost his bid for re-election in 1992, “receiving less support than any incumbent president in 80 years.”

George H. W. Bush “had been a college athlete, a Navy pilot and war hero, a business success… [Yet] he often seemed out of place when trying to communicate with voters. His… small gaffes — appearing surprised by a supermarket price scanner… — fed an image of a man distant from the lives of average Americans.”

Frankly, his standing with the American public has taken an upturn, in no small part, because of his son George W. Bush’s two terms as the 43rd President. If the first Gulf War was considered successful, I certainly appreciate 41’s restraint in NOT taking over Baghdad, which 43’s administration did a dozen years later.

In his post-presidential life, George H. W. Bush “reemerged in the public eye for his humanitarian work in the wake of the tsunami that devastated southern Asia in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Through those efforts, he became close friends with Bill Clinton, the Democrat who had vanquished him.”

In 2011, President Obama awarded Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In retirement, he became known for skydiving into his 90s. I’d been concerned about his health, especially when Barbara, his wife of 73 years, died on April 17, 2018.

Whatever misgivings I had about George Herbert Walker Bush, I saw him as a basically dignified man who loved his country and his family. As Arthur, who met the man decades ago, said: “He was the last of the Old School Republicans, a type we’ll probably never see again: Kind, decent, respectable, someone with whom one could disagree without it being personal or bitter.”

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