Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Despite its name, Boxing Day has nothing to do with pugilistic competition

Boxing Day

Traditional English holiday extends Christmas giving

by David Johnson

Despite its name, Boxing Day, which is celebrated on December 26 in Great Britain, has nothing to do with pugilistic competition. Nor is it a day for people to return unwanted Christmas presents. While the exact origins of the holiday are obscure, it is likely that Boxing Day began in England during the Middle Ages.
Some historians say the holiday developed because servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but took the following day off. As servants prepared to leave to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes.

Church Alms Boxes

Another theory is that the boxes placed in churches where parishioners deposited coins for the poor were opened and the contents distributed on December 26, which is also the Feast of St. Stephen.
As time went by, Boxing Day gift giving expanded to include those who had rendered a service during the previous year. This tradition survives today as people give presents to tradesmen, mail carriers, doormen, porters, and others who have helped them.

The Day after Christmas

Boxing Day is December 26, the day after Christmas, and is celebrated in Great Britain and in most areas settled by the English (the U.S. is the major exception), including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Bank Holidays

Boxing Day is just one of the British bank holidays recognized since 1871 that are observed by banks, government offices, and the post office. The others include Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Whitmonday (the day after Pentecost), and the banking holiday on the last Monday in August.

St. Stephen's Martyrdom

The Feast of St. Stephen also takes place on December 26. St. Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor. For the success of his preaching and his devotion to Christ, St. Stephen was stoned to death by a mob. As he died, he begged God not to punish his killers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The House GOP's Little Rule Change That Guaranteed A Shutdown

Normally any congressperson can call for a vote on any bill at any time. But just before the shutdown happened, the GOP quietly passed a measure that said only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor can call for the shutdown to end (unless he gives a designee permission). Not even the most senior GOP congressperson, Speaker of the House John Boehner, is allowed to do it, without permission from his own guy.
Here's the thing. Democrats are not always right. Neither are Republicans. The political system is messed up from top to bottom. But this is just crazy. The guy in charge of the GOP can't end the shutdown.
With less than two hours to midnight and shutdown, Speaker John Boehner's latest plan emerged. House Republicans would "insist" on their latest spending bill, including the anti-Obamacare provision, and request a conference with the Senate to resolve the two chambers' differences.

Under normal House rules, according to House Democrats, once that bill had been rejected again by the Senate, then any member of the House could have made a motion to vote on the Senate's bill. Such a motion would have been what is called "privileged" and entitled to a vote of the full House. At that point, Democrats say, they could have joined with moderate Republicans in approving the motion and then in passing the clean Senate bill, averting a shutdown.

But previously, House Republicans had made a small but hugely consequential move to block them from doing it.

Here's the rule in question:

In other words, if the House and Senate are gridlocked as they were on the eve of the shutdown, any motion from any member to end that gridlock should be allowed to proceed. Like, for example, a motion to vote on the Senate bill. That's how House Democrats read it.
But the House Rules Committee voted the night of Sept. 30 to change that rule for this specific bill. They added language dictating that any motion "may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee."

So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.

"I've never seen this rule used. I'm not even sure they were certain we would have found it," a House Democratic aide told TPM. "This was an overabundance of caution on their part. 'We've got to find every single crack in the dam that water can get through and plug it.'"

Congressional historians agreed that it was highly unusual for the House to reserve such power solely for the leadership.

"I've never heard of anything like that before," Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.

"It is absolutely true that House rules tend to not have any explicit parliamentary rights guaranteed and narrowed to explicit party leaders," Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM. "That's not typically how the rules are written."

Republican staff on the House Rules Committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But here's what House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) told Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) when she raised those concerns before the rule change was approved.
"What we're attempting to do is to actually get our people together rather than trying to make a decision," Sessions said. "We're trying to actually have a conference and the gentlewoman knows that there are rules related to privileged motions that could take place almost effective immediately, and we're trying to go to conference."

"You know that there could be a privileged motion at any time...," Sessions continued as Slaughter continued to press the issue.

"To call for the vote on the Senate resolution," Slaughter interjected. "I think you've taken that away."

"I said you were correct. We took it away," Sessions said, "and the reason why is because we want to go to conference."

Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at

Friday, April 12, 2013

Gordon Hirabayashi: Why I refused to register for Japanese evacuation

Published by Crosscut
Editor's Note: Gordon K. Hirabayashi was a student at University of Washington when the U.S. ordered the removal of Japanese-Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Hirabayashi refused curfew orders, prompting a legal battle. He lost. It wasn't until the 1980s that Hirabayshi's convictions were overturned, putting him firmly in the right on his initial refusal.
After his death in 2012, Hirabayashi’s brother, James Hirabayashi and nephew, Lane Hirabyashi, compiled his diaries and correspondence which follow his experiences as a student through time served in jail for defying U.S. orders. The book gives insight into Hayabayashi's motivations and faith during his time in jail.
“A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States" chronicling the life Gordon K. Hirabayashi was released by the University of Washington Press this month. Below is an excerpt which contains Hirabayashi’s formal refusal to comply with orders. He disseminated the refusal to chairmen of the YMCA board where he was a dorm resident:

When my family was eventually moved from Pinedaleto the more permanent War Relocation Authority [WRA] camp known as Tule Lake in Northern California, two women who had been uprooted from the Los Angeles area trudged the dusty road from the opposite end of the camp looking for my mother. When they finally located her, they said they had heard that the mother of the fellow in jail fighting for their rights was housed in that block. They had come to greet her and to say “Thank you!”
In recounting this episode, my mother wrote about what a great lift she had received from that visit. When I read her letter, I experienced a sudden removal of weight from my shoulders, which I hadn’t realized I was carrying. I knew then that nothing I could have said or done could have given her more satisfaction.
In any case, as I prepared to take my stand in Seattle, I heard about Min [Minoru] Yasui in Portland and his refusal to obey the curfew because his case was already going on. As far as the Japanese American community was concerned, in terms of the norms of the 1940s, protesting was not a frontline activity, not even a backline option. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) was the big thing in the Japanese community. I knew the leaders, men like Jimmy Sakamoto and Bill Hosokawa. They were working on opposite things from what I was doing, so I never consulted them.
Had Japanese American leaders known of my position while they were still in Seattle, they would have confronted me and said, “You are not even dry behind the ears. How can you take such a step that will create difficulties for the whole group? How do you know there won’t be a backlash? How do you know you are right and the rest of us are wrong?” I would have had difficulty answering their questions.
But I would have had questions for them also. How could they defend America and the Constitution by acceding to a decision made by military authorities to suspend constitutional guarantees, especially when there had been no suspension of the Constitution via martial law? In the end, I would not have changed their views, and they would not have changed mine. By personality, though, while I had independent positions on various things, I was never what you might call the kind of person who habitually protested. 

As I followed the press after the U.S. entered the war, the writing was on the wall. The first part of the evacuation process began with the Bainbridge Islanders, who, because of their proximity to naval installations, were moved in March 1942. The last district in Seattle to be evacuated was the northeast section, including the University District, where I was living. The deadline was May 12, 1942. By the end of March, the Bainbridge Island Japanese Americans were gone. At that point, I knew that I wasn’t going. I sat down and wrote a statement:

Why I Refuse to Register for Evacuation
Over and above any man-made creed or law is the natural law of life — the right of human individuals to live and to creatively express themselves. No man was born with the right to limit that law. Nor, do I believe, can anyone justifiably work himself to such a position. 
Down through the ages, we have had various individuals doing their bit to establish more securely these fundamental rights. They have tried to help society see the necessity of understanding those fundamental laws; some have succeeded to the extent of having these natural laws recorded. Many have suffered unnatural deaths as a result of their convictions. Yet, today, because of the efforts of some of these individuals, we have recorded in the laws of our nation certain rights for all men and certain additional rights for citizens. These fundamental moral rights and civil liberties are included in the Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution and other legal records. They guarantee that these fundamental rights shall not be denied without due process of law.
The principles or the ideals are the things which give value to a person’s life. They are the qualities which give impetus and purpose toward meaningful experiences. The violation of human personality is the violation of the most sacred thing which man owns. 
This order for the mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent denies them the right to live. It forces thousands of energetic, law-abiding individuals to exist in a miserable psychological and a horrible physical atmosphere. This order limits to almost the full extent the creative expressions of those subjected. It kills the desire for a higher life. Hope for the future is exterminated. Human personalities are poisoned. The very qualities which are essential to a peaceful, creative community are being thrown out and abused. Over 60 percent are American citizens, yet they are denied on a wholesale scale without due process of law the civil liberties which are theirs.
If I were to register and cooperate under those circumstances, I would be giving helpless consent to the denial of practically all of the things which give me incentive to live. I must maintain my Christian principles. I consider it my duty to maintain the democratic standards for which this nation lives. Therefore, I must refuse this order for evacuation.
Let me add, however, that in refusing to register, I am well aware of the excellent qualities of the army and government personnel connected with the prosecution of this exclusion order. They are men of the finest type, and I sincerely appreciate their sympathetic and honest efforts. Nor do I intend to cast any shadow upon the Japanese and the other Nisei who have registered for evacuation. They have faced tragedy admirably. I am objecting to the principle of this order, which denies the rights of human beings, including citizens. [May 13, 1942]
I circulated a half-dozen copies to the chairman of the YMCA board; Colonel Kimmel, director of the University of Washington ROTC; and a few YMCA supporters. Dr. Fred Ring said, “I just heard about your position — that you intend to refuse to go along with this. I admire your position . . . but I’m trying to determine whether this is a courageous act or a foolhardy act.” And he was seriously reviewing for himself whether mine was an intelligent way of expressing my objections. Once I was in jail, however, both he and his wife, Mabel, both of whom were Baptist Church and Fellowship of Reconciliation members, were right there supporting me.

About the Author

Gordon K. Hirabayashi (1918-2012) was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in May 2012. He was professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. James A. Hirabayashi (1926-2012) was professor emeritus of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. Lane Ryo Hirabayashiis professor of Asian American Studies and the George and Sakaye Aratani Professor of the Japanese Incarceration, Redress and Community at UCLA.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why I Love John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck wrote as part of his Noble Peace Prize speech in 1962: “The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.”  And within the same context, he also wrote, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” 

How can one not be in awe of his perception?  As a writer, even in fiction, Steinbeck broke boundaries of how to reconcile what is humane.  He mixed literary prose and realism with such grit and fortitude that I’m charmed by his depressing and enriching style.   The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still inside my head, and in fact I have made soft suggestions to both books in my WWII novel, Eyes Behind Belligerence.  I named two of my characters Tom and Rose, (although they are married and not brother and sister,) as a quiet dedication to The Grapes of Wrath; and even slid in Of Mice and Men as a favorite book of one of the protagonists in an effort to understand who has the right to take away someone’s life.  It also plays into effect of bonding between two unlikely friends who only share the commonality of their environment.

I discovered Steinbeck in high school, as many secondary students have before me in English classes.  I’m grateful he was included as part of the curriculum.  Up to that point in my life I had not read that many “goddamns” and “bastards” in YA fiction.  In fact, that was the first time I learned how to spell other swear words not often read in bathroom stalls that rhyme with Nantucket.  And spelled correctly, I might add.  I began counting how many times these “goddamned bastards” appeared in Of Mice and Men.  And yet we weren’t allowed to say them in the classroom if we weren’t reading the texts out loud.  The reason I bring this particular topic up is to explain how I began to comprehend a coarse, migrant lifestyle from people who came out of the Dust Bowl.  The book opened up another world and I loved it.  Not only did I want to be a part of that world by continuing to read John Steinbeck, but I wanted more.  I too wanted to write about the depravity and faith mankind.

Initially I wanted to be an artist- mainly focusing on drawing and painting, and I do have a graphics art degree in addition to a history degree.  Because I’m dyslexic, reading and writing came to me slowly as a child, and I somehow compensated by memorizing the structure of words.  Up until I was a teenager, I didn’t believe I had any other talent.  It has taken me some time to find courage to peruse a writer’s career.  I have a highly creative brain that engages in any creative outlet possible- including writing, which later has dominated my desire to be creative both visually, (describing scenes like describing paintings,) and intellectually. And as a teenager, while investigating American history, I came across the Japanese-American internment camps. When I learned more about the camps I felt compelled to then write about these camps. Why?  I don’t have any Japanese ancestry in my family tree.  I live in the Midwest and grew-up in a medium size town where cultural diversity is a bit underdeveloped.  My reason is simple:  I don’t want to continue to live in a conical world.  Consciousness does not develop and mature by existing in a frozen pond.  I wanted to write about issues of camp life that has never been written about before in fiction. Much like what Steinbeck did when writing about migrant workers during his time.

I like to believe that after decades worth of introspection we have learned more wisely than something that happened yesterday.  And that’s why I love history: To learn. To question.  To redeem our humanity.  My philosophy is this: “Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.”  I think John would agree on some transcending level.  


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About Me

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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