Monday, January 26, 2009

Has it come to this?

I saw this option pop up on my TiVo a little while ago, but just assumed it was an early April Fool's joke.

Apparently not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On Hope, Change

I am on my lunch break right now, watching the Inaugural luncheon and getting ready for the parade to tie a big bow on the meat of the day's events. Sure there are plenty of parties to keep an eye on tonight, but as far as the big ticket items go, we're getting to the end of the road.

From election night to today, I've been thinking a lot about the man I helped to elect and how all of this fits into the big picture. More to the point, I've been keeping an eye on how the transition unfolded with regards to the people around me who didn't vote for Obama this time.

Of the endless Facebook sniping from both sides it boiled down to two refrains:

1.) Anyone who voted for Obama is blindly following his cult of celebrity and variants on the Internet rumors.
2.) Anyone who didn't is a close-minded racist who was an idiot for continuing to support former President Bush.

None of these ideas are fully formed for me yet, but I have a few rhetorical questions that I keep coming back to:

* What's so bad about idealism? I know it's shorthand for youth, inexperience and blind stupidity, but at its base levels, what is so bad about aspiring to the ideal?
* For that matter what's so damaging about a candidate who trades in hope for the country and its citizens? I can see skepticism, but on its own, hope isn't such a bad thing.

My wife watched the Oath of Office from a crowded waiting room at the University of Chicago Hospitals in Hyde Park and said she was moved by being in such a diverse group as they watched the ceremony.

I was in the Pioneer Court in the shadow of the Tribune Tower with a small group of people who gathered to watch on two mobile big screens set up for the event. Many people brought their children to watch the event and more than a few tears were shed as President Obama addressed the country for the first time.

While much has been written and discussed about this being a new day for the United States and the sea change in America's political and social landscape, I believe that any president has a hard time making sweeping changes. That's not a bad thing, it's just the way our government is constructed and I wouldn't change that if given the chance.

To all of those who claim that he hasn't done anything of substance and doesn't deserve the adoration, that's a valid point. However, making a change politically is quite different from making a difference in the culture at large.

When it comes to that point, convince me that he hasn't done so already.

Monday, January 19, 2009

One more day

Above is the reaction of Robert Kennedy, addressing a crowd of supporters on the evening the Rev. Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis. I heard a story about this a few weeks ago and the fact that Kennedy basically spoke off the top of his head and appealed to our better nature.

He was already scheduled to speak in a rough neighborhood in Indianapolis when he received word that King had been shot. He insisted on going ahead to the campaign stop.

From what I've heard, there was virtually no violence in that neighborhood that evening.

Additionally, Kennedy said:

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love - a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

Below is a piece of King's Mountaintop speech, that he gave a day before Kennedy's and obviously, a day before he was killed. Much is made of the speech because he alludes to not being around to see the changes he was forcing and some people see that as oddly prophetic.

I've included it to dovetail with the Kennedy call for compassion and his realization that there had been tough times in the past and would be tough times in the future.

While President Obama is happy to link himself as a historical heir of Lincoln, I think he shares just as much with King and Kennedy in his calls for sacrifice and realization that the world doesn't change simple because millions of people voted for a black candidate.

With all the recent talk of race in America and what it means to have a black president, I've been a little confused. Honestly, I can't make a logical connection between Obama's election and the end of racism in our society. Many people have been eager to look to King's speech about having made it to the mountaintop and declare that we're there as of tomorrow afternoon.

I think even the most idealistic of us know that it's not that simple.

The night before he was killed, King spoke about where he would like to be if God would place him anywhere in history:

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up.

The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world.

The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it.

Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 3, 1968

While it's a nice quirk of history that many people are home today on MLK Day and Obama will be sworn in tomorrow, there is still a great deal of road to cover as alluded to by all three men. This will require hard work, understanding and, in the immediate case of the President, probably a few false starts and the need for patience.

Does his election mark the end of racism in this country? Certainly not. But it's a definite sign that it is dying.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Doors swing open, doors slam shut

One of the best things parents do for their children from the day that they're born is to lie to them. Regardless of race, age, social status, region or religion, almost every child with a parent present is told the same thing, "You can be anything you want to be."

We're all adults here, we know that sadly isn't the case. It's still one of the greatest things that a parent does for their child.

We get older, we find that we're just not suited for some of the jobs we want. Most obviously, you can work as hard as you want, but if you're five feet tall, you're never going to be the starting center for the Knicks. Now that Zeke is gone, you've also lost your shot at backup as well.

Life is full of smaller hurdles as well. Perhaps you really want to write the Great American Novel, but you can't keep thoughts in your head long enough to get a solid start on it. Maybe you'd love to be a high-powered Hollywood agent, but can't wrap your mind around numbers.

The point is that from a very early age, there are plenty of things that stand in your way between what you want to do and what is realistically available to you.

I've swung wildly across this spectrum from my highly idealistic days as a college freshman, where I felt that my post as the Burke Hall vice president could certainly lead to a better world for my fellow man (one pizza party at a time, I suppose) to heated discussions in my mid-20s where I passionately argued the point that "most people just do whatever job sucks the least."

While we can't all be the cowboy/astronaut/ballerina/princesses we'd dreamed of being in kindergarten, I think that part of growing up is realizing that the time, effort and sometimes money required to get from Point A to Point B in our professional lives just isn't worth it for a lot of us.

We find apartments we like in cities we like and hopefully marry a person we like and that's enough to keep us happy. Sometimes, we buy dogs. We're not drones and most of us settle out into areas that we enjoy on multiple levels, but if you were to sit down and sketch your top five careers you'd choose if the aforementioned time/money/skills, would the title on your business card be there?

Mine wouldn't.

This stems from course reading I'm doing this week to prepare for Thursday night's class as I begin the second semester of my adult education career. I need to map out my custom-crafted major with an eye on some greater goal. That can be grad school, a new job or pretty much anything else I choose. I tend to think that if I was goal-oriented, I wouldn't be there in the first place, but I'll play along.

It's not like they have the Big Book of Awesome Jobs open in the main office and you go down and pick one out. It does take time and effort and a desire to fight and work towards that goal to get to a place where you're doing a job that you wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

That seems to be the piece most of us miss somewhere along the line. Again, sometimes the effort honestly isn't equal to the opportunity costs. Why trade on the time and money you could allocate other places unless it's really worth it?

This is a bigger issue as we get older. In addition to the investment up front, there's always the possibility that you emerge on the other side and can't find anyone to pay you for your newfound knowledge and skill set. It's one thing to get your business degree and use it to leverage a better position or paycheck with the same company, it's quite another to be dumped into the job market with people who weren't in kindergarten when you were in high school.

However, some people are willing to take those risks and do something dramatic to shake up their station in life. For them, I have nothing but respect. For someone like me who clings to routine and familiarity, I can't think of many things that are more terrifying that chucking everything and forging out on a new course.

While I think I have the requisite courage to make moderate course corrections on my career path, I can't fathom the stones it takes to decide you're tired of being a bank manager and enroll in clown college the next week.

Still, I've been pretty content today to pore through course materials and wonder about what can be. While I have the lion's share of coursework complete for an English degree, it's been a satisfying exercise to stretch my legs and wonder what it would be like to strike out in new directions, regardless of their practicality or earning potential.

If you think of your career path as a hallway, it's not outrageous to say that doors are constantly shutting for a variety of reasons. You need to pay for daycare and dozens of doors that would have been really fun to walk through close. Your friend goes nuts with her cell phone camera on a long night for you and the political doors close. Just getting older closes its share of doors.

It's been interesting to go and reopen dozens of them today. What major do you pick to be the head coach of an NFL team? I think I'd like to give that a run.

(Image from: