Sunday, January 30, 2011


January 30, 2011

The theme is love and yet it’s such a cheerless spectacle.
Long lines at the checkout counter and they’re in evidence on only one day in the year. Guys, all of them, standing there. Cradling heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and musical cards and beribboned red balloons and roses and cuddly teddy bears and they can afford none of it. Not really. Not in this current economic climate .
Which is why they all seem so glum. That money might have been better spent on something worthwhile, but no – here they are, dollar bills at the ready, a few still in their work overalls, clutching armfuls of crimson gifts.
Heartbreaking, in a way, so sad. It’s the same every year – the last-minute lotharios shelling out dough they don’t have, or cash that could have gone towards food or perhaps paying the rent or the phone bill. Instead they’ve succumbed to the Valentine’s Day Guilt Trip.
Brainwashed into buying. Somebody – and it’s not Cupid - wields this invisible cattle prod that’s propelled them into Walmart’s “love and romance” aisle and on to the waiting cashier. And their womenfolk have been conditioned to expect this stuff. If your man don’t buy you nothin’ he don’t love you no more
Our reluctant romeos wait till the twelfth hour itself, February 14th. And it’s plain that many would have preferred not to be lashing out the $40 on that gift box, half of which is puffed-up red wrapping anyway. Or $60 for the heart-to-heart pendant that’ll be lost inside a week when the flimsy chain breaks.
But where do those plush animals come into it? And since when did you tell your tootsie you love her with a pack of Tootsie Rolls?
It never used to be such a giddying spend-a-thon. A card was all, perhaps a home-made one, or even - from the aspiring Keats, Byron or Shelley - a tender thought, handwritten. The idea was to send anonymously: Be My Valentine! Girls would compare notes. How many cards did you get? Who might your secret admirer be? That was the magic of St Valentine’s Day, but now it’s all gone.
Now it’s St Merchant’s Day, one of many such ‘holidays’ during the year dedicated to the great pagan deity we’ve all been forced to follow – Greenback, God of Money..
Like some kind of avaricious incubus, the wicked St Merchant has already penetrated the souls of our beloved festive characters, infected dear old Santa and the innocent little Easter Bunny. His co-conspirators in the marketing world have even created artificial holidays for which we’re coerced into spending even more to avoid appearing heartless.
There’s Mother’s and Father’s days, Grandparents Day, even Secretary’s Day, now unisexed as Administrative Professionals Day but invented in 1952 by advertising executive Harry Klemfus. Six years later Patricia Haroski countered with Bosses Day. Where will it all end?
The answer is it won’t. Already we’re being urged to buy one another stuff for St Patrick’s Day – something green, mostly to do with alcohol. Doesn’t matter if the only Irish in you is a shot of Jameson’s. And preposterous presents for April Fool’s Day like the world’s largest bra for $20 or, at five bucks more, the Kissme Bad Breath Detector.
Next up: Hallowe’en gifts, Thanksgiving gifts, MLK gifts. We’ll soon be shamed into buying goodies for Aunts And Uncles Day, Pet’s Day...
Give! Give! Buy! Run to the store and spend! If you don’t you’re a grinchy old party pooping wet blanket stick-in-the-mud sourpuss spoilsport. And a meanie.
But back to the holiday at hand.
A certain Lisa Riggs has posted ideas for what to give your car for Valentine’s. Not kidding here. Make red and pink covers for seats and steering wheel, scatter little foil and paper hearts all over the back seat and the floor. She says the second idea is no good if you have children in the car. So this is for adults?
We have to watch our spending here in Walton County, but there are some for whom a price tag is just another piece of wrapping paper.
If there’s anyone in this area gifting a $6 million Harry Winston pink diamond ring for Valentine’s don’t waste a second, ladies, elbow his current sweetie aside and marry him quick. Naturally he’ll need to buy you the Renee Strauss diamond encrusted wedding dress for $12 million and the 34-acre Cornish Cay Island in the Bahamas for $7 million: you can honeymoon there.
Glamorous, amorous and affluent. Lucky them, right? Or could it be that the more you spend the less actual love is involved. I hope so, because here I might be a contender for the championship, as I bought my - very understanding – wife a gorgeous present for our first Valentine’s together... and none since. Take that, Madison Avenue!
Some ardent Don Juans give sexy lingerie from Victoria’s Secret and elsewhere, which is fine. Except a gift like that comes with expectations, so it’s the giver himself who’s the chief beneficiary. If you’re going to go the bedroom route for Valentine’s I’d say do it right. Get her a mattress..
But whatever - tell her you love her and not just on the day the marketing puppeteers say you’re obligated to do it. Make your own card. She’ll love you for it. Or just write a note. Buy her something, but don’t be stampeded into doing it to a deadline set by the advertising execs.
Sorry honey, there’s less housekeeping money for you this week. But here’s an outrageously overpriced box of chocolates loaded with palm and coconut oils and partially hydrogenated trans fatty acids to give you heart disease. And dip your cute little hooter into these gorgeous toxic flowers from Latin America for a hearty sniff of the cancer-causing pesticides the US banned 30 years ago.
Oh, and may I have one of your Valentine’s Tootsie Rolls?
So February 14th is effectively just another calendar date for ridding yourself of wages because there is no St Valentine any more. The Pope dropkicked him off the Calendar Of Saints in 1969, perhaps because he wasn’t a single person in the first place but a vague amalgam of three or so Roman-era martyrs.
I believe we should dispense with St Merchant in the same brusque fashion. We won’t need the Pope for that.


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


January 16, 2011

Socialism leads to communism. I keep hearing this nonsensical statement from two kinds of people, those who don’t know what they’re talking about and those who do but seek to mislead the rest of us. Shame on both kinds, especially the latter.
The two systems are glaringly different. Before going any further I should mention that I know because in 1975 I helped boot the Soviets’ most feared secret policeman out of Britain. Seven years earlier I spirited a person to freedom from right under the Marxists’ noses. More about this later, but yes, I know the difference.
And it’s not only that the road repairs in Commie countries are done by beefy old babushka belles running jackhammers and steamrollers.
How many who speak so confidently about communism have actually been behind the Iron Curtain? I have. Several times. And I‘ve argued against the Reds about their flawed egalitarian system.
How many who rail against socialism have visited a socialist state and not even known it? I grew up in a land that elected a socialist government when I was two years old...
It was Britain. That’s right, America’s best buddy; the country Russia was going to nuke first during the Cold War, when the threat of Soviet attack was frighteningly real. In fact all of capitalist Western Europe - on the front lines, facing the Red Army head-on - embraced socialism as well.
Here’s a list of those staunchly anti-communist countries that ran socialist agendas and still do: France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Greece...
Sufferin’ Stalinists! All of them are friends of ours. And all but three - Finland, Sweden and Ireland – are in NATO.
Funny, but socialism didn’t turn a single one of them communist. Why? Could it be because no way is socialism “merely a transitional step into communism” as I saw in this newspaper in a recent guest column urging us to “put God back into government”. The writer, clearly uninformed, was hereby also looking to reverse the First Amendment, which I’ll re-state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
So Congress said faith is take-it-or-leave-it. Same as Europe, whereas Commie regimes just stamp on religious worship; they don’t want to share any of their citizens’ fealty, even with God. Theirs in the only voice they permit their people to hear.
Bolshevik countries have always been easily identified by their aluminum alloy money, so light wearing a hole in your pocket would be a miracle – that is if they believed in miracles. Never flip a coin because a gust of wind might carry it to the next desolate town.
An East Berlin ticket clerk told me all rail travel was third class. If they had only one, then why not call it first class? That’s communism: everything’s third class..
But the real difference is one we see in Cuba, North Korea, China and in the new totalitarian Russia. Once in power a communist government is nigh impossible to remove, certainly not at the ballot box. They say it’s “a dictatorship of the people by the people” but it really boils down to a few of the nastiest people dictating to all the rest. By contrast, socialist governments are voted in or out by popular demand. And that’s democracy at work.
We already have some socialism here. Social Security, Medicare, the VA and state programs like education. Even when right wing administrations come to power, both here and in Europe, they keep many of the socialist programs in place.
Hello again. Been expecting you. Here come the Big Business boys and their fellow travelers, hollering: “We don’t want the government sticking its nose in.” They may not. But we sure do. Because without any kind of controls we get the sort of financial anarchy that’s plunged us into the mess we’re in today.
We’re experiencing a kind of creeping McCarthyism, more insidious than Senator Joe’s in the early 1950s. It’s not just reds under the beds now, it’s community-spirited folks being branded as quasi communists.
It irks me when folks who don’t know, and those who don’t want us to know, try to link democratic socialism to dictatorial communism. Why should anyone who believes in looking after our old, our sick, our poor huddled masses be labeled a virtual Commie?
Those who never open the book see only the dust jacket. No, Walton County won’t be all collective farms and no, we won’t see the hammer and sickle flying over our courthouse as a result of being a caring society.
What we don’t know hurts us, so let’s find the truth. Here’s Glenn Beck distorting the nature of Nazi Germany’s National Socialism, ignoring the fact that Hitler used the second word to disguise the first. In reality Nazism had nothing to do with socialism and everything to do with nationalism.
And the USSR taking the respectable word ‘socialist’ to cover their own repugnant one. Theirs should have been the Union Of Soviet Communist Republics. Even the ‘union’ part of that was enforced with steel talons. Ask the Hungarians and the Czechs about Russian ”union”.
In closing, I should explain briefly the 1968 escape. Using passports I’d doctored, I smuggled an East German woman through Hungary and Austria to liberty. She was my previous wife.
And as a Daily Mail journalist I led my newspaper’s successful campaign against KGB director Aleksandr Shelepin, who had entered Britain posing as Russia’s labor union chief. By the way, the Harold Wilson government that kicked the communist out? Socialist.

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


January 5, 2011

That’s it, then. The festivities have festered their last. The balloons hang flaccid on the walls, sad and wrinkled. Crumpled party hats and wrappings are stuffed in the bigol’ black plastic garbage sacks that lie crowded together outside the back door. With their yellow drawstrings drooping, they look like snoozing walruses.
There are nutshells and pine needles, tangerine pips and Lego blocks everywhere. And those infuriating bits of tinsel.
We’ve all filled our bellies to popping point and been thankful once again for this bounty, a portion of which is now embedded in the carpet, thanks to your cousin’s kid. He didn’t tell you about the mince pie and then the other little cherubs ground it in even deeper so that now a professional cleaning is required.
You had the Christmas. The meat, the puddings and pies, the constant glasses of good cheer that gave grim old Gran’ma the giggles. It’s all gone except the turkey sandwiches, curly now and dry. Surplus, like those last relatives who’ve taken root on the couch.
One of them found that special bottle of eggnog you’d stashed away; and how smug you felt at selecting such a foxy hiding place behind the dog’s bed. Yet the thieving so-and-so drank it dry and tossed the empty in amongst the walruses.
But the strange creation Aunt Brenda brought is still there. Ominously and defiantly centered on the sideboard. Some bigol’ pale-fawn-colored object with luminous specks, allegedly food, although it could have been a dead manatee. Nobody knew for sure and therefore no-one dared approach it. Not even after she’d had a first forkful to demonstrate its scrumptiousness and made some exaggerated lip-smackin’ sounds.
Just before she took ill, that is, and Uncle Jim had to drive her home.
She’d made that beige mass from scratch, she enthused. Scratch is something I, personally, don’t like food to be made of. For one thing I’m sure you get fleas in scratch - ask any dog - and then you spend the rest of the day picking the critters out of your teeth.
Yes the guilt is there. I’m sure that was a whole sheep sandwich I wolfed down last week. It did taste a bit woolly – could it have been one of Brenda’s culinary creations?
After two days Little Johnny’s bigol’ plastic monster macho alien-blasting submachine gun had already lost its rat-tat-tat. Then Gramps stumbled in his Christmas slippers because they were two sizes too big, and crushed it.
Other little angels are wailing that their toys stopped working. The radio controls keep interfering with each other’s plastic racers and Gramps’ hearing aid. They girls are fighting over whose Bratz doll is the most bratty.
Unwrapped newly-gifted socks and ties lie abandoned. At full volume, hefty Aunt Hettie reminds Uncle Norm – and everyone - that he knew very well what her favorite perfume was and this isn’t it.
The guy across the street wasn’t invited again. He left his colored lights on – those flashing, chasing, jingling ones that outline his house and end up in a scintillating burst of Santa-and-the-reindeer sculpture on his front lawn. Right under your bedroom window, forcing you, as in every year, to hang heavy drapes to get some shuteye. Once more it will be February before this uber-celebrant eventually switches them off. And February before the hospital staff take off their inflatable antlers.
But you’ll still be finding specks of glitter in the house. You swear that tinfoil stuff actually reproduces.
The stores are selling off plastic Christmas baubles at a fraction of the price now. That local politician left the homeless shelter the instant he knew he’d be on TV, flashing that great big phony political smile like the front of a 1954 Chevy Bel Air...
At least we’re out in the country. In the big city, especially my native London, where The Season is one entire drunken month of office parties, you’d be wading through the streets knee deep in secretary vomit. Okay, I’m exaggerating.
But here in Walton County you’re glad this festive period is over so now you can look forward to not having to deal with it all for another 11 months when that other Christmas – the Thanksgiving one - rolls around.
That said, I regret having just oinked my way through that last chunk of ham, although, in mitigation, it was only part of the grand end-of-year pig-out.
And now it’s New Year’s. Our cheap new Chinese cuckoo clock just cackled midnight in an accent that I swear was Vulture. Wifey unearthed an old bottle of
French “laughing water” and some plastic Christmas mugs.
So, after a swift 2011 toast and a hasty glug, it’s toss the last of those turkey-and-tinsel sandwiches onto the bigol’ plastic walrus pile and off to bed.


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.