• Finding the Perfect Gift

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2016
    Christmas Day column in the Courier--fun for one and all, at least toward the end.

    Every year we give and get gifts large and small, expensive and simple, heartfelt and routine.  Every year we give or get only one or two—if we’re lucky—perfect gifts. 

    Some years we give or get none, though we might receive plenty of wonderful gifts. 

     Perfection eludes most gifting.     

     So what’s the perfect gift?  First, what it is not, then what it is. 

    The perfect gift has nothing to do with giving exactly what’s asked for.  That’s just fulfilling a wish, which gets appreciation and gratitude, but not the wonder and joy of a perfect gift. 

    The perfect gift is seldom merely money, though that’s easy—for those who have it—and usually appreciated.   But it’s hardly perfect.  Anyone with money can give some away and relieve the challenge of gift-finding.  

     The perfect gift is not a yearly package from a Christmas gift company—nuts, cookies, fruitcake, whatever.   Such predictable yearly gifts are appreciated, but hardly perfect.  Think homemade vs. store-bought. 

    Nor is the perfect handpicked gift predictable—the same ties or shirts or candy every December 25th. They’re often appreciated, but none dare call them perfect. 
    The vast majority of gifts, you see, fall far short of perfection.  They’re what we mostly give as gifts on Christmases and birthdays. 

    So it’s a major challenge to find and give a perfect gift.  Consider:  

    The giftee never thinks to buy the perfect gift for him/herself.  It’s either too extravagant, too unusual, or too outside expectations.  A gourmet catered dinner, say, for someone who loves food but seldom goes out. Damn the considerable expense—make it among the best meals ever.    

    The perfect gift reveals the giver’s understanding of the giftee’s desires and needs.  Rare and expensive season tickets for the concertgoer or sports fan; surprise long-distance train tickets for a rail travel lover; a special Sioux ceremonial healing stick for a devotee of Native Americans. (The latter was an actual perfect gift I saw given just a few days ago, and the giftee could hardly contain his delight.)

    Finally, the perfect gift amounts to a perfect storm of choices—about the giftee’s personality, the budget, the mix of beauty and usefulness, degree of surprise, and timing.    

    This year, I did receive the perfect gift, and I was so pleased that I shared it on Facebook, and exclaim about whenever I use it.   

     It has all the attributes of a perfect gift:  unusual, nothing I would have bought for myself, surprise, and shows that the giver (my daughter) understands my personality and needs.   It’s slightly crude, but that fits my personality too, so no problem. 

    The gift?  Three rolls of China-made toilet paper with all the sheets imprinted with the unmistakable mug of—well, you can guess.   

    I plan to use it all through the holidays and share with relatives, most of whom will be aghast.  I’m hoping for amused, though.   

    Happy Holidays, and here’s hoping for a sanitary New Year.  



     
      
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    Posted in
    • Holidays
    • Humor
    • Christmas
  • Old Glory and Free Speech

    • Posted on Jul 03, 2016
    Here's today's (July 3) Courier column.  Watching the salt tide wash away a sand graffiti version of an American flag on a beach got me to thinking:  Should that sand flag-scratcher be prosecuted for desecration? 

    Recently I was moseying along an Atlantic beach at low tide when I came upon an American flag scratched out in the sand with a stick. 

     It had the familiar outline—the box in the upper left with stars, horizontal stripes on the right and bottom, the whole sitting in a rectangle.  Well done, I thought, probably by a patriotic beach-walker with a sharp stick.  

     I knew that graffiti-sand flag wouldn’t last past noon, thanks to the approaching tide. 

     Imagine if someone had placed a Wal-Mart American flag there instead, and tacked it down with sticks.  The saltwater tide would inundate it daily.     

     Trouble. People would complain that a “real” flag was being desecrated by saltwater and carelessness.  No such problem with the sand flag.   

     That flag was a mere scrawl, a graffiti that any smart 10-year-old could have done. 

     So should patriots take “real” flags more seriously than sand flags?  Should anyone be fined or jailed for “desecrating” store-bought versions of Old Glory? 

     No.  They should not. If desecrating a flag depends on the elaborateness and detail with which the flag is created, it’s nonsense. 

     The flag serves as the country’s logo, and worldwide, the Stars and Stripes symbolizes what the country stands for.  Nothing more, nothing less.

     If this seems like common sense, point your browser to “Flag Desecration Amendment” and check out the serious attempts to outlaw flag destruction. 

     In the late 1960s, legislators from practically every state as well as federal legislators were rabidly opposed to flag burnings by Vietnam War protestors. 

    It infuriated them to see their beloved Stars and Stripes trampled and burned. 

     If you think the country’s divided now, a half-century ago we were burning down buildings—not just flags—and police and the National Guard were beating and shooting students for marching and protesting.  Now we merely carp and grouse on the Internet.  

     When the so-called “Flag Burning Amendment” to the constitution went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, the decision split 5-4 in favor of “desecration” being free speech.  And therefore perfectly legal.  

     And get this—Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority, insisting that public
    desecration of the flag was in fact protected the by the First Amendment.    

    Still, the idea didn’t die.  The U.S. Senate brought it up in again as recently as 2006.  It lost by one vote.   Basically, lawmakers wanted to give the courts power to punish anyone who damaged the flag in any way. 

    That piece of colored cloth, in other words, would be treated like a powerful religious relic, with the government behaving like an avenging church.    

     There’s a crucial irony here.  You can’t damage a country’s freedom by hurting its logo.  The only way to inflict real damage is by curtailing freedom of speech.  

     That’s what anti-desecration laws would do, as the Supreme Court wisely declared.    

    Defacing or destroying any representation of the U.S. flag does nothing whatsoever to harm the country for which it stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

     
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    Posted in
    • Politics
    • Holidays
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

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