Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making a mockery of Congress

On Friday, Stephen Colbert testified in a House Judiciary Sub-Committee hearing on Protecting America's Harvest. Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farmworkers Union, had appeared on The Colbert Report to talk about the union's new campaign, Take Our Jobs, to increase awareness of how hard farmworkers work to pick, package, and ship our country's fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat, as well as the plight of the many immigrants who come here legally and illegally to do these hard jobs. People complain that these immigrants take jobs away from Americans, so the union's campaign encourages people to at least try to do these kinds of difficult jobs. As Colbert proved on his show Thursday night, during which he showed a clip of him working on a New York farm, immigrants are not taking these jobs from most Americans. Most people do not want to work on a farm. It's really hard work, for very little money (most farms are, in fact, not profitable), and it has to be done year-round in all kinds of weather. The number of farms in this country has been steadily decreasing, as have farm income and the number of operators for which farming is their primary occupation. (See some stats here and here.)

Colbert appeared in front of the subcommittee committee in character, although he submitted a more serious written testimony for the record (go here and click on Colbert's name to view his written testimony). (For the record, most people, including government officials, often submit a written testimony that is different from the one they present, mostly because they only have a few minutes to present.) He was awkward, annoying, rude, and opinionated, just like he is on his show. Some people didn't get it. Others thought he was making a mockery of Congress. To those people, I say: Have you seen Congress lately? They don't need a TV personality to make them look foolish - they do a fine job on their own. Plenty of celebrities testify on the Hill, but we generally don't hear about them or the causes they're supporting unless we read the Washington Post celebritologists or pay close attention to the causes they support. Colbert made a fool of himself on purpose because he knew that would draw attention to the issue. Toward the end of the hearing, he was asked why he was interested in the issue.

"I like talking about people who don't have any power," he said. "It seems like the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come here. . . . And at the same time, we invite them here and ask them to leave. . . . I don't want to take anyone's hardship away from them [but] migrant workers suffer and have no rights."

Let's hope this is not the last we hear of this important issue.

For the record, I thought he was hilarious. I don't know how the people in that room kept a straight face.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Fall Melancholy

For some people, the deep dark winter is the saddest time of year. For me, autumn is the most melancholy of seasons. Already, the angle of the sun is lower. Mid-morning is the day just getting its bearings, not the searingly hot magnifying glass of a day that is already many hours in. The evening hours feel a little more urgent as we lose sunlight the quickest of any time of the year. It may still be hot, but there's a sense that the joyousness of summer will soon end. I have a feeling that this autumn may be even more melancholy, because it marks the end of a summer I didn't really get a chance to appreciate. It was just too hot, and this year has been just too hard. I've been looking forward to fall with the hopes that it would bring cooler temperatures and a sense of peace, but with the coolness this weekend came a yearning for hot, but less humid, weather. A yearning for what summer should have been.

The one aspect of autumn that I do enjoy is the beginning of a chance to start anew. I'm not religious, but I've always loved Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, because it signals a time of reflection that lasts through the Gregorian New Year (January 1st) and on to my birthday in February. Perhaps it seems odd that Rosh Hashanah is actually a solemn holiday, but I get it. You can't start anew until you mourn for the mistakes you've made, regret that you didn't spend more time with the people you love, didn't do enough of the things that fill your heart with joy. You can't do better until you know what you've done wrong. This year I'll have some extra time for that - Rosh Hashanah starts sundown on September 8th, which is earlier than usual. It's been a really rough year. Boy am I ready to start anew.

January, February, and March are difficult for me because I'm readying myself for the brighter days ahead that take too long to get here, but it's October and November that pull at my heart. The waning daylight, the rain and the wind, the coolness of the air, make me want to crawl into bed and pull a sweater over my head. Maybe this year will be different. I'll use my slow cooker more. Play outside more. Spend quality time with friends more. Get an early start on beginning anew.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Earlier this year, my mother moved out of her condo in the city and into a house in the suburbs. From photos, it seems like a lovely home, in a lovely area, and she was able to put in a pond and a garden, like the one we used to have when we were all a family. She's much happier now, but her home is not close to either of the train lines that transmit people around the metropolitan area, so when I visit, I will either have to stay with friends in the city and somehow schlep out to see her, or stay with her in the burbs and schlep into the city somehow.

After this weekend, my brother and sister-in-law are moving from the same city in which my mother lives to a city on the other side of the lake. They will have better jobs, a cute house, a cozy life, but if I want to see them, I have to fly into another city and schlep a few hours by car to their fair home.

Next week, my father is moving all the way across the country. When I moved home from college, I lived with him for 8 months. When I went to grad school, I lived just two hours away. For the past 18 months, he has lived just a few hours by car from me. My visit this weekend to celebrate his 60th birthday will be the last time I can visit any of my family members without having to get on an airplane and endure a long schlep.

My family has been scattered for years. I went to college, then my brother went to college. I moved home from college and my mother moved out of the house. I moved up to the city and my father moved to the South. I moved to the South and my brother moved to the city where I once lived. I moved a couple states north, then my father moved a couple states north of me. Now, three of us have moved yet again. The four of us are different-colored juggling balls, and the hands that catch us keep repositioning. But I'm the one who's been trying for 18 months to move from here, and now I'm the only one who doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Very soon, they'll all be so very far from me, the one who tries the hardest to maintain relationships with everyone else. They all have significant others, companions with whom they share their lives and their homes. I am 30, and I have a roommate and a cat and an apartment that leaks.

What a dismantling year it has been.