Monday, September 27, 2010

Take This Job and Work It

It comes as no surprise that Arturo Rodriguez can’t find many 100-percent born-and-bred Americans who are willing to take jobs in agriculture.

Rodriguez is president of the United Farm Workers of America, and its latest campaign, “Take Our Jobs,” invites U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farmworkers.

Rodriguez said the effort “spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled.”

The campaign is a political gimmick, certainly, and it has attracted fewer than a couple dozen hearty souls willing to do stoop labor in every type of weather condition to cut, hoe, shovel, sort, pack or carry loads of up to 50 pounds.

Gimmickry aside, the underwhelming number of citizens who are taking advantage of the UFW’s offer is testament to the hypocrisy that is part and parcel of ugly anti-immigrant sentiments now so chic among today’s politically correct. One would think that the immigrant slammers and the unemployed who whine about “the wets who are taking our jobs” would flock to the UFW simply to prove the bleeding-heart liberals wrong.

But they won’t.

They won’t because they are American citizens, and citizens of their stature should not have to endure farmworker conditions and farmworker wages. They’d rather bellyache about Steven Colbert than do an honest day’s work.

I’ve tried working the fields. Twice. Not because I had a political agenda or a comedy act, but because my family needed the money.

The first time out, I was a 14-year-old hired to work the fields by a friend of a family friend who was willing to turn a blind eye to child-labor laws to get me the job. I worked under the full broil of 110-degree Imperial Valley heat, bent over for 10 hours each day for $1.35 an hour with no benefits, except for the generous half-hour lunch periods each day. After day three, I couldn’t answer the bell.

Three years later, I was recruited along with a bunch of my high-school classmates to drive tractors. Seven days a week, 12 hours a day, crappy wages. After a month of under-the-sun drudgery without a day off, a work action ensued. The work stoppage wasn’t led by some fire-breathing socialist-Latino labor leader; it was forced upon us by the aggrieved Anglo son of the foreman who snuck into the tractor shed one night and poured sugar in the gas tanks because he believed we were being treated unfairly. It pissed me off because my family needed the income.

Fast forward several years, to 1978. I was back in the Imperial Valley, covering agriculture for the local newspaper (and earning a wage comparable to what I made during my short-lived career as tractor driver). The UFW initiated a strike, set to begin on a Saturday morning. The walkout came in the middle of the lettuce harvest season, a critical time for growers.

A local farm association leaped into action, organizing its own “take their jobs” event. A couple hundred locals — the unemployed willing to take on the farmers’ cause, housewives who sacrificed their contract bridge gatherings and high school students — gathered in the fields to replace striking farmworkers on that Saturday morning. They showed up with much enthusiasm that first day, but only a handful returned the next morning. It was just too darn hard, too darn hot.

So the farmers had to hire a bunch of immigrants to replace the local gentry hired to replace the strikers.

Good luck with your efforts to fill American jobs with American citizens, Mr. Rodriguez. But please keep their wages low so my iceberg lettuce remains affordable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's True, Of Course

I received an anonymous email today from someone wanting to know if Sam Farr is a socialist.

The question was accompanied by a link to, which announced (with no link or verification) that the Socialist Party of America has released a list of 70 Congressional Democrats who currently belong to the Socialist caucus. Rep. Farr is among those listed. Following the online posting is a parade of comments from intellectuals who subscribe to, mostly saying that the list will come in handy when meting out the beheadings once sanity is restored to the nation.

Having read the list online, I can only conclude that it must be true.

It's a shame that Joseph McCarthy did not survive to experience the wonders of the digital age.

Monday, September 20, 2010

You Gotta Be Squidding Me

Local coverage of important issues! The seething national political climate! The General Plan Update! Whatever the last letter writer happened to say about Israel!

All hot topics, to be sure. But nothing seems to arouse more passion among newspaper readers than the Comics page.

The latest raging controversy centers on "Squid Row," the local strip about fictional artists drawn by Bridgett Spicer. Some people don't like it and have taken time out of their busy days to write letters of complaint about it. Many of them punctuate their opinions about the strip with exclamation points! Still others have risen to Squid Row's defense.

Not that it really matters, but the complainants never ask me which comics I like. I would guess that most people think I'm some sort of Comics Dictator and that I only run the comics near and dear to my heart. As if I was some sort of Hagar the Horrible fanatic.

For the record, here's my assessment of The Herald's current comics lineup.

For Better or For Worse: Never a big fan, I dumped it when it went into reruns. Brought it back after I almost got run out of town.

The Family Circus: To paraphrase the level of humor here, yucky icky-poo.

Classic Peanuts: For those who whine about "Squid Row," I challenge them to look at the first several years of Peanuts and tell me the art is superior.

Zits: In my opinion, the best of the bunch.

Pickles: I find myself identifying with Earl more and more, but I'm an old guy.

Sally Forth: Never a laugh-out-loud moment.

Dilbert: Is it a comic? Or real life?

Adam@Home: Mildly amusing.

Bizarro: Caters to my own twisted sense of humor.

Garfield: Jim Davis has managed to forge a successful career with the use of the same three gags.

Arctic Circle: I never take seriously the Squid Row critics if they don't also urge me to dump this unfunny and badly-drawn comic. For reasons I don't understand, the complainers are more inclined to attack the local artist — a neighbor! — than something that comes from a syndicate.

Mutts: See Arctic Circule.

Dennis the Menace: Old and cornball, sure, but he's one of our own!

Doonesbury: Some story lines are better than others, but there's hell to pay if an editor messes with this one.

Hagar the Horrible: We keep this one to prevent readers who use phrases like "conniption fit" from having a conniption fit.

Beetle Bailey: Had its day back when Fort Ord was active, but I can't imagine that anyone in today's modern military would find it relevant.

Baby Blues: How come the young children are drawn to look like monkeys?

Blondie: I've never met anyone named Dagwood, but I've known lots of Mr. Dithers. Blondie continues to run in all American newspapers because of the nostalgia thing — and for fear that Earth would spin out of its orbit if a newspaper somewhere dropped the strip.

Sherman's Lagoon: A friend told me it's the funniest strip The Herald runs. Jim Toomey tries to keep it fresh, at least, which is a good thing when you're dealing with fish.

Squid Row: If I could get 20 people from Monterey County to send me a comic strip every day, I'd replace all our syndicated comics with locals. Except for Zits. And Dilbert.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Civilized Discourse

The Herald takes pride in the civilized discourse among its readers tucked away in the Letters to the Editor column each day.

For the most part, we let the dialogue run its course. The voices are diverse and mostly wonderful. It's a place for both the thoughtful and the kooks to make public their observations.

We try not to meddle much, but meddle we must at times. Unfortunately, we get letters that are too obviously loose with the facts, too nasty in their tone or too ugly in the ad hominem. Even then, we will work with the writers, asking them to provide proof of outlandish assertions or demanding that they tone down the ugliness.

Sadly, many of the more unreasonable writers of letters believe that the hogwash they've submitted deserves consideration as an amendment to the Holy Grail. And they don't take kindly to our suggestions that they take the hogwash out. Because we want to help prevent them from humiliating themselves in a public venue, they will accuse of us of being nutcase liberals, mouth-breathing conservatives, anti-semites, anti-Americans, anti-babies.

There's no limit to the ugly names we've been called by people over their incoherent letters — and the more incoherent the letter the more likely the writer will shower us with their bilge when we try to help.

In the end, we do try to let writers get as many of their deep thoughts into the paper as possible. Sometimes to a fault.

Last week, for instance, we let in an assertion by a letter writer that a clergyman with whom he's been sparring in the letters column called him a "bastard" in a private telephone conversation.

The rabbi insists that he did not use the word and the letter writer insists that that's what he heard.

And because The Herald had no way to verify who said what to whom, we should have eliminated the sentence from the letter before it was published. The editor involved, Royal Calkins, says he was simply trying to be fair to both of the feuding parties and had managed to persuade both of them to excise some of the more intemperate remarks from their letters. In retrospect, he agrees he should have pressed harder.

In the meantime, and at the risk of sounding like a prima donna, I suggest that letter writers take a deep breath and run a lap around the block before sending us your profundity wrapped in vitriol.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nine-Eleven, Went to Heaven

Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of America's slow decline into insanity.

The Associated Press story commemorating 9/11 this year, which The Herald will run Saturday, notes that the first eight anniversaries of the terrorist attacks were marked by somber, politics-free reflection. This year, it's quite a bit more zooey, contentious in ugly ways, with emphasis on a "Ground Zero mosque" and a kook who wants to burn the Quran.

Unfortunately, AP fails to mention that both the addled controversies were fueled by a national media that have apparently become increasingly comfortable raising daft rants up a flag pole in the name of advancing the "national debate."

From the outset, the nutjobs who whine about Feisal Abdul Rauf's proposed community center in Manhattan should have been ignored, just as the drooling Islamaphobe cult leader who poses as a Christian in Florida should be ignored.

The story of Rauf's community center was first written in the New York Times much earlier this year and was greeted with a collective yawn by New Yorkers — until political opportunists threw their rhetorical spin into the issue. And the next time you hear Newt Gingrich expound on the notions that government has no right to impede religious freedom or that Americans should be free to do whatever they wish with their property, remember that he unabashedly tried to bully the president of the United States to intervene to prevent construction of the center.

And why the media chose to follow the antics of the loon in Florida is beyond imagination. The guy has about as much credibility as the babbling liar at the next barstool. (First hint of lunacy: He's got a church in Florida.) But now the Rev. Terry Jones has generated a level of media cred and national publicity that a book deal is certain to follow.

The reflexive lurching toward the lunatic fringes bent on dividing us is unbecoming. And it should stop immediately.

In the meantime, the rest of America — the rational super-majority — will remember the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and the many thousands of heroes involved in the rescue and recovery efforts. We will reflect on a day in which all of us stood unified in mourning and resolve.