Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ode to Clint

There's a place where over educated 27 year old virgins and Hmong (the Hmong is a people group comprising people from China, Laos, and Thailand) gangbangers converge. Where a grumpy recently widowed veteran and an Asian immigrant trade chicken dumplings for tools. It isn't quite common to find a movie that beautifully and almost quite perfectly captures the essence of what it is to be American today. But far beyond that, there's also the beauty in capturing what it means to be human, to empathize, to show tremendous courage, qualities which we are made to believe are fast vanishing from our world. Hence, to visit that bygone era we go to the movies for there we hope to find dramatized the world as it should be or as it could be. Tonight, I went for more than that. I went out of respect for a man who has brought to the silver screen some movies that have changed the way I view motion pictures. I respect actors but I respect directors even more. For they have the responsibility of setting the tone for how the movie comes across. No one has done this more beautifully in the last few years than Clint Eastwood. I know there have been several great directors over the past few years but Mr. Eastwood's movies have had the greatest impact on me. First it was Mystic River, then Letters from Iwo Jima and tonight Gran Torino which arguably is the best movie I have seen in a long while.

I saw Mystic River almost four years after a college professor recommended it. If you haven't seen Mystic River then you perhaps may not understand why I think it's one of the finest movies ever. Set in Boston, the movie begins with three young boys trying to etch their names onto a freshly laid cement side walk. The first two finish without any incidence but as the last young man tries to he is stopped midway. He is abducted, molested and returned back to his neighborhood to fight the demons that never stop tormenting him. The three friends are brought together again by a murder that impacts them all. The acting in Mystic River is phenomenal but so also is Mr. Eastwood's performance as director. The scenes in the movie are woven into a fabric that tells a story that is compelling but also well connected. What's interesting about the movie is its ability to capture the city, weaving elements from the distinct accents to the actual Mystic River that the movie derives its title from. The movie is beautifully made. No scenes are wasted. It is compelling and very engaging, testament to a great director. Interpretation in a city such as Boston is easy, but creating a war movie is a different ball game as can be observed in Letters from Iwo Jima, but Mr. Eastwood pulls it off well.

Letters from Iwo Jima was poignant and very significant. It was significant because at the time we were and still remain a nation at war. War creates two kinds of people; us and them. This war was not any different. As Americans battled Japanese soldiers there was little room to see any common ties, all that existed beyond the front lines was the threat of danger the enemy presented. And just like any other war the goal was to destroy the enemy. The goal remained the same until a young American soldier is captured by a Japanese general. The general spares the life of this young man. However he later dies from the injuries he sustained. When he is searched the Japanese soldier find a letter written to him from his mother and realize that mother is the same in every language. I say this not so much in reference to the word mother but rather to the sentiment this word evokes. The love of a mother is universal and this movie builds on this theme in a subtle manner. It invites the viewers to consider for a second the enemy in a war. It makes the argument that the Iraqi and Afghan soldiers are just as human as Americans. They have mothers, sisters, wives, and cousins. Whether we agree with their cause or not they are fighting in a war to defend their country just like Americans. Mr. Eastwood's ability to show the human side of a war makes Letters from Iwo Jima the best war movie ever made. It's unlike other war movies because it's not just about a bunch or grenades and gun fire. It's about the beauty of being human in an environment where the essence of such is all but thwarted. This is what makes Mr. Eastwood one of the finest directors of our time.

I heard about Gran Torino three days before I saw it. Gran Torino seemed like an unlikely movie to watch on Christmas Day. A more obvious choice would have been some of the light hearted fodder about a dog and his master or an old man who becomes an infant. Set in Detroit, the movie manages to weave together as its themes the failing auto industry, immigration, gangs, friendship, courage, and death. If movie going America wanted a slice of patriotic pie a huge chunk was served by Mr. Eastwood. Scenes of a city on the verge of a breakdown were well woven with personal triumph and tragedy. In the movie, widower Mr. Walt Kowalski forms a friendhip with his young Hmong neighbor after the young man attempts to steal his Gran Torino as part of a gang initiaiton. The robbery is foiled, the Hmong family is humiliated and their young son is forced to work for Mr. Kowalski as his punishment. Mr. Kowalski is constantly irritated by his "Chinese" neighbors and wonders what they are doing in his neighborhood. It's ironical that Walt cannot stand his annoying neighbors forgetting that the name Kowalski doesn't hint at Irish or English ancestry. However, a few dumplings and beers later Mr. Kowalski is willing to let his guard down and show his human side. He mentors the young Hmong man, Tao and teaches him true courage, the kind that doesn't come from stealing or initiation to a gang. Gran Torino will resound with all Americans in a personal way. For new Americans it details the struggle most immigrant families are all too familiar with. For seasoned Americans - for we truly are all immigrants- its evokes the nostalgia of great American cities. With all the bad press the city of Detroit has suffered, first with Kwame Kilpatrick and then with the auto industry, Gran Torino is patriotism at its best.

Mr. Eastwood's movies have a common thread, they challenge us to embrace our humanity. But also, his movies inspire, evoke memories and importantly are just plain great movies. From Mystic River to Iwo Jima, Flags of our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby and now Gran Torino Mr. Eastwood has served up some of the greatest movies of this decade and has set the tone for what a great movie should aspire to be.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Barack the Abs

Not since a picture of a shirtless Vladimir Putin was published has the picture of a shirtless man caused as much a stir as that of Barack Obama's. The President Elect is currently on vacation with his family in Hawaii and a picture of Barack in his swimming trunks and sunglasses has been causing quite a sensation. I first saw the picture along with others of the Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Obama's sister on a popular African-American gossip site. Then on AC 360 the pictures came up again. Currently, these pictures are on the cover of a few tabloids and all over blogosphere. What's interesting about these pictures is not just Barack barring his chest, but the celebrity of it all. The hounding of the Obamas by the paparazzi is akin to the treatment the likes of Britney Spears, Kanye West or Paris Hilton may get. Also, it's quite interesting how the photographer was able to get that close to the Obamas considering the level of security detail they have.

Whatever the case might be I really like this picture a lot. Despite his nicotine addiction, it's a known fact that Barack Obama is some thing of a health nut and his abs are proof that he's being hitting the gym and we can bet he'll put this same fervor to restoring the economy. Unfortunately, my favorite phrase lately has been "it's a recession jack," and no kidding it is! I went to the mall today and I was quite disappointed at how empty it was. But in the midst of it all, there is some measure of comfort knowing that just a little off the shores, there's a man with abs to put a college quarter back to shame and he'll soon be President. So I'm getting a new favorite phrase, "My President is blazing HOT!" He has the swagger and the abs to back up that new phrase. Further, he can give the entire cast of Bay Watch a run for their money and if that isn't reassuring I don't know what is.

So as you unwrap your presents tomorrow, do not be sad if you don't get what you hoped. In a shirtless Barack America got the best Christmas present anyone could ever ask for, at least I did!
With much gratitude I wish you all a Merry Christmas and don't forget to Barack the Abs!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Living in Reverse

I heart Charlie Rose. Some of the most inspiring conversations I've heard have come from the desk of Mr. Rose. I got to know Mr. Rose by accident. My mother was out garage sale shopping and brought back home a small, old wooden television set. It had all these interesting buttons and knobs and looked like something Archie Bunker would probably own, only that it was in color. The new television found a home in my room upstairs. We didn't get that many channels, but one of the few we had was Public Broadcasting Atlanta. Charlie came on at midnight and the first Charlie Rose Show I saw intrigued me. I loved his conversational style and for a long time I had a crush on Mr. Rose. I've always looked to Charlie as I fondly call him for inspiration and tonight was one of those nights.

I had just finished watching what I considered one of the best sports matches in all of history; Gentlemen's Final at Wimbledon 2008 between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was the longest final in men's tennis. I was watching the match thinking about drive and dreams. Then I remembered an incident that happened last year. I was still living in Denver at the time and Barack Obama came to visit. He had only announced his decision to run for office a few weeks before and I was ecstatic when I heard he would be in town. To begin with, I shouldn't have been in Denver. It was spring break and I should have been back home but for the fact that plane ticket prices were sky high that time of the year. So there I was stuck in Denver when I got the invite.

I made sure I got to the venue early. I waited for so long to get into the hall that held a few hundred people. Once inside, I heard Barack speak about his plans for America and his vision of change. After he was done speaking he stayed for a while to shake hands with his supporters. Some lady behind me kept hounding me to shake his hand. I wanted to so badly but I was miles away from him. Long story short, I didn't get to shake his hand in the hall. I was pissed. I was really pissed. I had come with the intent of talking to him. I wanted to so badly. So, I sat down in a chair and watched the hall empty out. I was so angry I didn't push my way to the front of the crowd. Finally there were only a handful of people in the hall and my sulking was not helping my cause. The only bright moment in all my misery was when some lady admired my shoes. At least I thought, it wasn't all in vain.

When I realized that I wasn't going to meet Barack, I decided to head home. When I got out I noticed a small crowd gathering at the steps because supposedly, Barack was coming down to address them. I hung there for a while but then he never came. I then decided it was all a waste and started heading for my car. I planned to stop by Ben and Jerry's, at least I would be consoled there. On my way to the car I saw a black van in the alley. There was a small crowd as Barack was supposed to be getting into the car to perhaps head over to the airport. I still wanted to meet him so I hung around. As soon as I spotted him, I called him by his first name and he stopped and looked up. I broke past security and walked up to him to talk just like I knew him. I told him I had applied for an internship the previous year and let him know I supported his decision to run for office. However, what I really wanted to tell him was I wanted to work for his campaign. I wanted to hound him there and convince him to hire me but I never did.

It's been a while since that Sunday in March, but I haven't forgotten or forgiven myself for what I considered a missed opportunity. It is often said that in life we regret the things we did not do more than those we did. I wish I had asked him but I did not. Sometimes, I console myself by thinking he might have turned me down, but what if he did not? I have let the memory of that day haunt me more than should be legally allowed and tonight was another one of those days. Then I came upstairs to get over my misery and I turned on the television. It's a totally different house and television set, but I am still quite passionate about Public Broadcasting. First Tavis Smiley came on with Seal as his guest. They talked about everything and yes, about Barack Obama. Then Charlie came up next. His second guest was the famous editor behind several great books and memoirs including Bill Clinton's; Robert Gottlieb. Mr. Gottlieb said something that resonated with me tonight; "don't live in self reproach."

He made this remark when Charlie asked if he had any regrets. His view on life was that if you feel you've made a difference then self reproach should not be your companion. I am not as advanced in age as Mr. Gottlieb so I cannot evaluate the change or difference I've made. I am quite hard on myself and I'm sometimes not aware of my accomplishment so I allow myself to wallow in self reproach if only momentarily. I am not quite sure where I am going with this post but I remember telling my career counsellor that more than anything else I wanted to live a life with no regrets at the end of the day. So, for the things I haven't done there's so much I have. For the mountains I haven't climbed there are hills I have overcome. For the lands I have not seen there are others I have and I am truly thankful. It's the holiday season and Christmas inspires hope for hope dispels shame. I do not know why I did not engage Obama in what might have been the opportunity of a life time but opportunity only knocks once for those who think it does.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bringing His A-Game?

I have a love-hate relationship with Kanye West. He's one of the most acclaimed artists of this decade and ranks among the few in the industry who have made the transition from producer to singer successfully. I love Kanye as a performer, however most times I find him a lot unbearable. The first time I heard about Kanye West was shortly after he released his first single "Through the Wire." Then began a journey with this artist Kanye West. He was much hyped but he didn't translate the fervor in his music when he gave interviews. He seemed distant and perturbed. I really wasn't sold after the release of "College Dropout" so I didn't purchase the album. Besides, from the start of his career Mr. West seemed to be marred in a series of controversy. There was the Rolling Stone cover that was a play on his controversial song "Jesus Walk" that caused quite a stir and his misbehavior at concerts. Hence, from the start I got the impression of a border line sociopath who had some monsters underneath his bed.

Besides his tantrums, there was a lot to observe about Kanye. He had his own unique sense of style or you may call it non-style. Kanye's style did not necessarily pop. It was not that spectacular, but it was just Kanye. I remember trying to help my brother decide on a costume for a party and I suggested he go as Kanye. Back then, going as Kanye meant wearing a polo shirt and glasses that screamed "weirdo." The look did not really have a name. It was not laid back swagger or suave but when you saw it, you knew it. It didn't look as though he was trying. It looked effortless but it was painfully so. There are those artists who just have style. But in Kanye's case it was clear that it had taken some blood and tears to craft the persona that he wanted to convince people represented the guy spitting all these rhymes. He didn't look comfortable in his clothes or even his own skin.

That was the early Kanye. Over time though he evolved; regressively evolved if I must add. We got introduced to the spoiled kid who wanted everything and wouldn't take "no" for an answer. There was this brat who threw a fit every time his work was not recognized the way he wanted it to be. There's a lesson in this for most artists. That you think a work is your best doesn't mean the critics or your fan base needs to share your sentiment. Pushing an audience to agree with your work steals from true artistry. Let the work speak for itself. I've heard some artists talk about how a particular song on their album is their favorite. Then I listen to the song and I don't feel a thing. Then there are those songs I really do like. Kanye failed to understand this concept. His audience had to like him, had to celebrate every song even though they honestly considered it "crap." Kanye didn't want any dissidents. I couldn't stand his arrogance and his ego. In the black community image is everything and to be honest Kanye's attitude wasn't a good look. He was always running off at the mouth and talking sideways. He deserved everything. He deserved to have every accolade because in his words no award show was authentic or valid if Kanye did not receive an award. Added to his arrogance was all the MySpace drama with his soror sister girlfriend and their ensuing ugly break-up.

Kanye only started to grow on me after the release of Graduation. I heard "Can't tell me Nothing," and became a believer. Then came "Stronger," and I was sold. I bought the album and played it over and over. My favorites on the album though are "Champion" and "Everything I Am." When tickets for the "Glow in the Dark" tour went on sale my siblings and I bought them. We payed a good bit for them but they were worth every dime. Although the concert showed Kanye at his best, it was a dark, dark concert. The tour coincided with his mother's passing and he could not pull himself from the abyss he had fallen in since she died. Kanye performed solo for almost an hour and then was joined on stage by Lupe Fiasco for the last song. Honestly, I expected Kanye to do something sinister after his mother passed. That he didn't was and still remains shocking. I always said back then that there were only two people in Kanye's world; Kanye and Donda. I didn't think he loved any one outside of himself and Mother Dearest. I really felt so much for him and I always wish she hadn't died the way she did. I don't know if Kanye is ever going to fully recover from his mother's passing except if he finds God. However, I rarely hear Kanye talk about God or about the "Universe" like some other people I know.

Now Kanye seems to be moving on. At least he's talking and that might be a good sign. He's always talked so no big surprise there but now he's talking about his Mother. There's something else he's talking about, his break up with his fiance, not the soror sister but Alexis Phifer. I can't imagine what must have happened in their relationship but his latest album "808s and Heartbreak" speaks volumes. I feel sorry for Kanye West a lot of the time. It's sad because Kanye doesn't seem like the kind who likes to be pitied. But you've got to feel bad for a guy who seems like he's had some bad breaks. He has admitted that he's suicidal, has a porn addiction, and God knows what else.

I hear now that Kanye is trying to intern for Louis Vuitton. It's ironic because Marc Jacobs is also a major designer for the label. It's kind of interesting how Louis Vuitton seems to attract these troubled men. It's likely that both men may never work together but the irony of it all is hard to gloss over. Every time I read an article about Marc Jacobs I cringe at how disturbed he is. There's always all this talk about his struggle with addiction and his loss of zest for life. Kanye comes across as a young Marc. When March Jacobs pens "A Letter to his Younger Self," he'll be speaking to Kanye. It can be argued that both men have different backgrounds, yet they're so alike. 2009 will be an interesting year for Kanye West. At least if not for anything, he'll finally evolve into his stylish self. I am already starting to see signs based on the picture above. When I saw the picture I noticed the oversized bow-tie first and knew we were on to something. Finally, Kanye may be coming into his own.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Kids Say The Darndest Things

I've spent a great deal of time working with children. Its work I enjoy because children are so innocent and unassuming. Oftentimes, I've heard some very funny things. On some ocassions though I've heard some not so colorful things and wanted to bury my head in the sand like an ostrich. I can recall those moments so vividly when the child starts to speak and in a few seconds, Mom and Dad's secrets are not so secret anymore. It's easy to excuse 4 year olds, but what do you do when an 18 year old kid says the darndest thing?

Not too long ago kid rapper Soulja Boy gave a shout out to the Slave Masters. He thanked them because without them he would still be in Africa without diamonds and tattoos. When I heard I was in shock. It was by far the dumbest thing I had ever heard. He had nothing on Theo Huxtable really. It's like Steven Spielberg or Elie Wiesel thanking Adolf Hitler for the Holocaust. Had it not been for Hitler, Spielberg would not have won an Oscar and Wiesel wouldn't have had a chance to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The gross ignorance behind Soulja Boy's comment is disappointing but expected. I didn't expect much from a young boy who sang about dousing and super soaking so called "hos" with God knows what.

What's even sad is the air time the Soulja Boy song received. Everyone was trying to do the Soulja Boy just like they are Beyonce's Single Ladies. Barney, Dora the Explorer and even Winnie the Pooh were all manipulated. I have always screened the songs I listen to and refuse to listen to what I consider rubbish. I respect a lot of artists even though I may not agree with their lyrics. Hustle and Flow which is one of my favorite movies gave me a new found respect for these artists. I admire the work they put into their craft and their drive to succeed. They sell their grandmama's trinket and their Uncle's sofa. There is no cost too great to pay all for the price of fame. Nonetheless, I still refuse to listen to what I consider classless stupidity, even if you had to sell your kidney. So, at first I thought the Soulja Boy song was a joke until I sat down to really listen to the lyrics of the song.

I can imagine being thankful for education, a working democracy, responsive government...but come on, diamonds and tattoos? There is a lot wrong with the mind of an individual who would hail a system that was cruel and inhuman. I don't know which is worse though, Soulja Boy hailing the Slave Masters or some of the songs Plies and the likes of him put on our airwaves. We cannot regulate speech. Doing so would be UnAmerican. However, we can demand responsible behavior from celebrities because they are unfortunately "role models." God forbid that Soulja Boy or Lil' Wayne be any young child's role model. That would be utterly tragic.

So, earlier this week with a smirk on his face Soulja Boy made a public apology for any offensive statements he may have made. It's almost Christmas and those albums have to get out as stocking stuffers. Don't worry about his remarks, Soulja Boy is just a kid who thought out loud in real time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes Over Baghdad

"Don't pull the thang out, unless you plan to bang, Bombs over Baghdad. Don't even bang unless you plan to hit something...Bombs over Baghdad."


I remember the days leading up to the war in Iraq. It was in the fall of 2003. I was a junior. My political science professor at the time made us write papers supporting our views on the preemptive attack on Iraq. I opposed the war in Iraq. I opposed it because I did not believe that the United States should be the world police or in the case of Iraq some sort of moral police. I read every article the New York Times published in the days leading up to the first strikes. I kept every newspaper copy. I didn't want to be anti-war just because. I wanted to have the facts. I did my research and I was convinced that Iraq did not have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. Hence, no amount of yelling and fist thumping by Colin Powell or Bush mispronouncing the word "nuclear" was going to convince me otherwise. The International Atomic and Energy Agency was already on the ground and I almost wished that the IAEA would be allowed to do their job without interference and that a war would be avoided. The Iraqi people had already endured enough cruel sanctions they needn't be punished any more. That we were on the verge of another Gulf War was to say the least unsettling.

If Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons it was not the duty of the United States to make him give them up or in this case show where he "hid" them. He did not invent nuclear weapons. They had existed since the United States chose to use them on unsuspecting Japanese civilians. There was no moral police to stop the United States. So bombs fell over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Then the United States decided that they were an evil, these bombs were. Hence, they had to be owned only by governments who would have the wisdom to know when to use them, like there ever was or would be a time to do so. The United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and a few others could have them. But Saddam couldn't. What deprivation! Other countries seeing this felt like kids in a candy store who could have a taffy but not the candied apple. No fair!

I turned in my paper just in time to go hear the Emory Symphony Orchestra play. It was the last concert for the year. I remember that moment as I sat in the Symphony Hall and the sounds of the strings filled the hall. It was so poignant. The next day, bombs fell over Baghdad. It was clear that the invasion had occurred and we were a nation at war. Then the news was filled with the escapades of Chemical Ali and the Hussein children. Politicians in Washington threw punches and at dinner tables and diners all across the nation people debated for hours the rationale behind the invasion. I heard all kinds of theories about the war. The clergy had their theory. Southern Confederate loyalists and liberals took their jab. Then, it was Sunday morning and in came the news that Saddam had been captured. But the war had not ended, was not ending. Then there was a farewell tour and shoes were hurled.

It's 2011, and perhaps the war is "over" in Iraq. So what's next...a Marshall Plan of some sort? Remember the final scene from Charlie Wilson's War? Afghans and Americans battle invasion from the Soviet Union in the movie which is based on a true story. The Soviet Union is defeated and the invasion is stalled. In the end, Mr. Wilson tries to negotiate for some money to build a school for the Afghan children. There had to be some surplus for this was a costly effort. See, billions of dollars had been spent fueling a war but in the end, the United States government did not have a mere million dollars to open up a school. It was too damn expensive and strictly not part of the budget. But the bombs that fell were.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Do convicted criminals deserve a second chance? I've been thinking about this particular issue for a while. I felt so strongly about convicts and the prison system after the murders of three members of singer Jennifer Hudson's family. The accused killer William Balfour had just completed a 7 year sentence for attempted murder, car-jacking, and stolen property charges in 2006. He had only been out for a short while and still on probation when he befriended and married Jennifer's sister Julia. I am not quite concerned about Julia Hudson's poor choice in a husband. I have talked about that topic endlessly and my conclusion was she chose to marry him because men of his sort were familiar. She probably didn't know any better. Her Myspace page which remained public days after the murders showed her to be a deeply disturbed individual who probably had identity issues. However, Julia Hudson is a story for another day.

Around the same time period as the Hudson murders, another somewhat D-List celebrity was in the news; Lyfe Jennings. Lyfe Jennings born Chester Jennings is currently facing two felony and three misdemeanor charges after leading police on a high speed chase on October 19. It is alleged that after having an altercation with the mother of his children, Jennings jumped into his car inebriated and led police on a chase that would result in him crashing his car. Now Jennings' stage name "Lyfe" is somewhat awkward. It is rumored that the name came about after he served a ten year felony arson sentence. Serving ten years seemed like a life time hence the nickname. Nonetheless, after his release and sudden rise to fame as a singer, I thought Jennings had changed his ways. His songs although somewhat preachy at times gave us a glimpse into the soul of a reformed man. So what happened on that fateful night? Unless the charges against Jennings are either dropped or reduced another stay in a state run facility is definitely in his future.

Then how about the Paper Trail man? I can't deny T.I? He's from my adopted home town. Everyone loves the "Rubber Band Man." He put Bank Head Highway on the map. Even my Mom thinks T.I is cute. My good friend who is a die hard neo-soul fan recently confessed that she can't get T.I's latest song "Anything you like" out of her head. For some reason she said she just can't stop singing the song. Despite T.I's so called swagger and the love the A town has for him he has not had a clean past. T.I has a litany of charges and run-ins with the law to his name. He has violated his parole in the past, has numerous arrest records in Georgia, and has earned a reputation as a drug dealer. Then it all seemed like he had an epiphany. He came clean from his drug-related past, cut some records settled into family life with his long time girlfriend and it seemed the king of Bank Head Highway was done with his soiled past. All was going well until Ashton Kutcher decided to Punk T.I. Who would have thought that Kutcher's Punk'd scene would play out in real life a few years later? Unable to leave his past behind, T.I. is about to return to an all too familiar place to serve a sentence for trying to purchase firearms with silencers a few hours before he was scheduled to perform at the 2007 BET Awards. T.I is a true Atalian [pronounced A-T-Alian (an urban slang for a true bred Atlanta native)] in every sense of the word and our city wishes him well.

Then how about Orenthal James Simpson? Oh I forgot! He was never arrested the first time. The second arrest however if I must comment is just a simple hoax and a joke to punish him for escaping the penitentiary for the murders of his wife and her friend.

But seriously, what should be done about people who break the law? Do they deserve a second chance? If you are a serious fan of A&E's "First 48" you will understand where I am coming from. The show chronicles the first 48 hours after a homicide is reported. Everything happens in real time. There are no simulations. The cameras keep rolling from when the body is found until the crime is solved. Sometimes it's solved other times the criminal is not brought to justice. However, if you are a fan of the show you'll concur that 95% of the time the assailant is usually someone who has a long history of past crimes. I remember watching a show from Miami last week. The guy who was a person of interest in a particular homicide had over 20 pages of past criminal records. Most of the criminals on the show and in our streets fit this same profile. Somehow, the system fails to punish them effectively the first time. As a result, they fall through the cracks and become miscreants in society and commit even worse crimes second time around. If they're convicted for attempted murder the first time, the next time it's homicide.

The prison system in the United States has earned the reputation as the go to place for people who disturb the peace. Should the prison system be more than a holding place? Why do certain individuals commit worse crimes after serving a sentence? Do they learn the new behavior while incarcerated or do they commit these new crimes because they are thrown out of the prison into a system that cringes at the mention of the word "convict?" I have not had the chance to interact with an ex-con on a personal level but I would like to at some point, not romantically though! I want to hear first hand the experiences of living in a United States prison. There are all these stories of torture, abuse, and molestation in the prisons. Most prison cells have a hierarchical system I've been told. It's like the jungle and survival is not guaranteed. Those who make it do so after under going a selection process that weeds out "sissies," making sure only the strong survive. The strong come out with vengeance in their hearts and a desire to beat their first record. Then there are some who return because once they are out they find reintegration a daunting task. They've been gone for so long and the prison cells are familiar. They can't find gainful employment and long for the meals and camaraderie of jail. But, there are others who come out reformed. They become religious while in jail and even manage to get some form of education. Regardless of the state of former convicts I believe there is still general consensus that the judicial system in this country is broken.

The coming year promises to be a year of change. Change was the operative word for the Barack Obama campaign and hopefully will be so during the Obama White House years. If our prison systems do not reform convicted criminals it might be time for alternatives. Guantanamo Bay is not the only broken facility. There are several others here on American soil that need to be closed or closely monitored. President-elect Barack Obama's background in the Law is quite reassuring, so also is his experience as a professor of Constitutional Law. Our judicial system needs to be overhauled from the way we make arrests to how we sentence so called convicts. The system has so many flaws the biggest being the fact that it is not color blind. Further, not everyone in jail needs to be there. We have a looming problem, it is more than celebrity convicts who don't have the common sense to stay out of trouble, although they were good for illustrative reasons. It involves promising minorities who are in jail because they live on the wrong side of town or are just out of luck! However you see it, we have a problem on our hands that needs urgent attention.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Irony that is Africa

The euphoria over the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States may have waned but the gunshots in Eastern Congo have not. As thousands across the world including a huge majority in Africa ran in the streets proclaiming the dawn of a new era, thousands fled from the Eastern Congo, creating a humanitarian crisis that has most watch groups concerned. When the voice of the people was raised in victory in Kenya last week did it echo in the DRC, or were the sounds of guns louder? Could it be that right before our very eyes a genocide is occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

The history of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been marred by war, strife, and infighting. Becoming independent from Belgian rule in 1960. The Congo has been unable to pull herself up by her bootstraps and become an effectively governed state. It is without question that the Congo has been severely plundered by foreign rule and unfortunately so. Nonetheless, the sins of rulers past cannot be a constant excuse anymore than slavery can be in the United States. It is often noted that the DRC is the richest nation in the world. For there is no other nation in the world so enriched with the resources found in that nation, yet, a great majority of the Congolese people live in abject poverty.

Like most countries, the Congo has it class wars. There are the abjectly poor and the unbelievably rich. I recently came upon pictures took in the DRC by some friends and I was shocked. There are only a few places in the world where I had seen the kind of squalor I saw in the DRC. Yet, in the midst of the squalor where mansions of gold and ivory behind fortified walls. Lives lived in carpeted splendor and air-conditioned rooms. But, on the other side of the road, there were people who had no inkling where their next meal would come from. Now, I make this example not to derided the DRC, for this picture is common in many African countries. However, the extent to which it occurs in the DRC is startling. For poverty is the norm with riches the exception.

I do understand that there must be some administrative challenges with governing a nation as big as the DRC. Notwithstanding, it is not impossible to govern. If the right individuals are put in office then it makes the task of governing easier. However, Joseph Kabila who is the current President of the DRC was never elected. He succeeded his father Laurent Kabila who was neither an elected officer but rather a rebel. I will never understand the mentality of children or spouses succeeding their relatives in an entity that is not a monarchy. Laurent Kabila was not elected and I believe the people did not want his son either. I can't imagine one of the Bush daughters assuming power should Bush die in office. I understand there wasn't a functioning government and that the peace had to be preserved. However, what happened to Laurent Kabila's generals? Wasn't there any one fit to govern the DRC following Laurent's death. Did Joseph Kabila have a platform? Where the ideas of his father his and did he have the desire for office? What happened to the voice of the people?

Although, the voice of the people may have been shut in the DRC, in the United States, it was heard last week. I say this unequivocally that more than being a victory for people of color in the United States, the election of Barack Obama is a victory of Africans. For lest we forget, Barack Obama unlike his predecessors was able to have mass appeal because he did not parade the injustice of slavery and neither did he remind white America of their sins. This is in no way implying that Barack is insensitive to these issues. Far from it. However, it is safe to say that unlike the Jacksons, Sharptons, and those of the old guard, Barack's history is not rooted in American slavery. His ancestry is African and this gave him an edge. Hence, he did not have to wrestle with issues of identity because he knew who he was.

I am making a case for Barack's ancestry because I am trying to go somewhere with this. In the Bible, Africa on many occasions was synonymous with refuge. Joseph the son of Jacob and the great-grand son of Abraham was enslaved in Egypt. His story however is significant because he went from incarceration to the throne. Further, he was significant in directing the agricultural economy of Egypt to the benefit of several empires in what was perhaps one of the worst famines in ancient times. In addition, following the birth of Jesus Christ, his parents were instructed to take him to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod who for fear that Jesus was the Messiah sought to kill the babe. In another incidence Joseph of Arrimathea bore the cross of Jesus when he got too weak to carry it. What significance does this all have you may ask? Barack Obama is the direct descendant of an African.

I make this argument not to lay claim to Obama or to in any way discredit his ties to the United States. Nonetheless, he cannot deny Africa any more than he can America. However, while he is being elected to the most powerful position in the world Africans unable to overcome the stronghold of tribalism are busy killing one another. The footage of those fleeing is heart wrenching. For those who flee, while it is inconvenient, it is not uncommon. They may have made this same journey in 1994 and have only become too familiar with these journeys. They have become used to the camps awash in dysentery and diarrhea. They have become used to the flies and the malnutrition. They are used to camps and answer to "refugee" when called. They have no identity. This is the Africa we have become used to.

While I choose to single out the DRC it is not alone. Let us not forget the Sudan. The Janjaweed militia is still on the loose. Women are still been raped and hundreds still die from malnutrition and malaria. That CNN doesn't carry the news doesn't mean the tape stopped rolling. Or how about South Africa? The shanty towns have not been upgraded. The indigenous South Africans are still been teased by the beauty of Cape Town and Johannesburg while they live in cardboard boxes. Remember Sarafina or Tsotsi? Those movies were made for Hollywood but they are not far from reality. Or remember Nigeria? In the days following the death of Sani Abacha, news of his foreign accounts made me ill for days. With the mass pollution and disorder in Lagos for example, I couldn't believe he had amassed a fortune that could truly change the country.

So, Barack Obama is President. It is not an accident that he is African, but rather it is a challenge to his Presidency and to the souls of the African people. I remember about a year ago, I met Jendayi Frazer the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs for the Bush administration. I was concerned about what would happen to Africa in terms of foreign aid following the end of the Bush years. I am still concerned. As Obama assembles his cabinet, I would love for Africa to be remembered. Our challenges are great but not impossible. We have the talent and the resources. If we are guided we can grow. We can learn and we can change. The operative word here is "change." Is it possible that Barack Obama came to office for such a time as this?

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

"I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those that came before me, and that, in no other country on earth is my story even possible."

~President Barack Obama

Fever. Electrifying. Momentous. These are words that have been used to describe the events that happened today. Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America. I am overwhelmed. This is utterly incredible. I am not in shock because I believed this day would come. I was not sure when it would come but I knew that one day in my lifetime a person of color would rise to the highest office in this land. It is completely surreal but yet it is real. As I sat watching the votes come in on CNN and the ensuing commentary I knew that this was "the day." When the votes came in for Pennsylvania and Ohio I knew history had been made. I knew I would look back on November 4, 2008 with not only nostalgia but pride.

I am truly happy for Barack Obama for he does deserve his success. He will need a hefty dose of courage because the journey ahead is going to be long and arduous. In his own words, the nation is fighting two wars, the planet is in peril, and we are facing the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Hence, President Elect Obama is going to need the best minds surrounding him at this time because the challenges ahead are great. And while our greatest days are still ahead, to get to those great days we will have mountains to climb. The next eight years are going to define the course of history and I am securing the best seat in the house to watch the future of our world unfold. I do not say this passively. I will secure the best seat and wear my thinking cap.

I am also truly pleased for Michelle Obama; the "rock" of the Obama family. She does deserve to be in the White House and has earned the right to be the next First Lady of the United States. Born to working class parents, the Robinson children were not complacent and refused to accept the status quo. They did not let their status limit them but instead pursued Ivy League educations at some of the finest institutions in the world. Michelle Obama deserves her success and I am so happy for. As much as I celebrate Obama's success I revel in Michelle's because she is as much a part of this great moment in the history of this great country as her spouse is.

As an immigrant in the United States my heart is truly enlarged. I am overtaken by mirth. Far from being puffed up, I am deeply humbled at the turn of events. I am convinced more than ever in the power of a dream and in the audacity a young boy had to hope that he could one day be President. Today's events are just as monumental as that of several years ago, when Nelson Mandela won the popular vote in South Africa after years of incarceration and apartheid. Dare we hope that one day the Iraqi people or Afghanistan will have a functioning democracy. To that I say "yes we can, si se puede."

Monday, November 3, 2008

What If?

What if Senator Barack Obama wins the Presidential Election? What if he gets the majority of the general votes? What if he wins all the battleground state? What if on January 20th he is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. What if he brings change to the United States? What if the economy rebounds and America gains her respect in the world once again? What if a few years from now I am in Illinois? What if I decide to visit the Barack Obama Presidential Library? What if I read there about a young man born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a young unwed mother from Kansas? What if it isn't a what if? What if this really did happen? What if we stopped asking if we were ready for a black President? What if we just embraced the idea of a man who wants to be President because he has a fresh outlook on things? What if my campaigning was not in vain? What if I didn't break security for a five minute conversation with Barack Obama in vain? What if Joseph Biden, my favorite Senator becomes my Vice-President? What if Michelle Obama has a chance to add her personal flair to the White House? What if Sasha and Malia run the halls in the White House on a Sunday afternoon? What if Barack gets to sit behind the table of the Oval Office. What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not die in vain? What if? Regardless of what happens today, I will never forget November 4, 2008.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Response to a Thread

The post below is the last response I wrote to a thread on the Facebook over campaign donations for Senator Barack Obama. It was written a few days after the Palin-Couric interview and the First Presidential Debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. I decided to post this last response after watching the second debate which was broadcast a few day ago. The sentiments from the first did not change much during the second, hence my decision. This version having been moderately edited differs from the first.

Ever hear of the term "wanting to bitch slap someone?" Well that's perhaps how McCain must have felt post Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric. If I ever did see a more unaware and inexperienced candidate vie for the White House, it has got to be Sarah Palin. Like Jack Cafferty said, "If McCain wins the election, Sarah Palin will be one 72 year old's heartbeat away from the Presidency (paraphrasing)."

Now, over to McCain. I unfortunately missed the debate but I heard McCain avoided eye contact with Obama. At a loss for what to call his behavior, Chris Matthews said it might be contempt, inferiority complex, guilt... Nonetheless, it was just plain disgusting. Even Matthews was dumbfounded!

But if McCain needs to be reminded, Obama had as much right to be on that stage as he. Obama was not awarded the nomination. He won it, and so by a significant margin. I was wrong when in an earlier post I mentioned that McCain would see a black man on the podium first before he saw a politician in Obama. He didn't see anything, black man or politician. He probably only heard the voice of a n****r. Remember, John McCain was of age during the era of Jim Crow. He perhaps couldn't believe that the stage did not read "White's Only." He was in Mississippi, the site of so many lynchings. Obama's place he assumed was on a tree outside. Forget that nonsense about him been a prisoner of war during the Civil Rights Movement. He was a prisoner but bore in his bones the sentiments of that generation. Sentiments he has still not parted with.

I wonder what he thinks of Michelle Obama? She is probably to him just another minstrel in a show. He does not see a Harvard educated attorney. He probably sees a video girl. Sad right? Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos.

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a Raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

~Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Tribute to Heroes

To all heroes, to my hero and to yours. Heroes do not always have to wear blue uniforms nor do they always have to bear arms. Heroes come in all forms. They come running down a hundred and ten flights of stairs or like my Mother, they multitask and care for everyone. They give selflessly, not for a reward but just because, for that's what heroes do. To the city of New York to the FDNY to the families of 9/11 to your hero and to mine, I lead a salute to everyone who has ever served and continues to serve a need greater than theirs. Thank you.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mating Habits of Elephants

In their natural habitats, mature female elephants come into estrus (heat) a few days every year. For this specie estrus marks a period of ovulation during which the elephants are ready to mate and possibly get pregnant. Elephants are interesting animals. They are highly intelligent and very social and have cohesive family units. The family unit is usually led by the matriarch who leads the entire herd in search of food and water. Elephants are gentle yet very strong animals. Typically, elephants are somewhat similar across the globe. From Africa to Asia, similar behavioral traits are obvious among elephants. However, while elephants across the globe are alike American elephants differ markedly. The mating habits of the American elephant is shrouded in secrecy and cloaked with hypocrisy and lies. Often, their mating sites are discovered, resulting in huge news stories, resignations from office, public apologies and lots of damage control.

A few days after the death of Strom Thurmond, a story that would forever change his legacy broke. Strom Thurmond always had very strange mating habits. But what differs markedly in his case was there was as absence of a public apology. Not that he would have given one had the knowledge of his first child become public before his passing. Thurmond was in his time the foremost crusader for segregation and still holds the record for the longest filibuster ever by a United States Senator in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. For all Senator Thurmond's crusading he lived by a double standard. He nonetheless managed to keep the fact that he had fathered a child with his parent's maid when he was a young lad a secret. His relations with the maid Carrie Butler would result in the birth of his daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams who was adopted by Butler's uncle and aunt. Although Senator Thurmond did not actively play a role in the upbringing of his child he supported her financially and granted her access to him that led many to suspect that she was more than just a loyal constituent. If hypocrisy didn't have a definition, I would put Strom Thurmond's name as a reference. He severely hindered the progress of African-Americans in the United States. First from South Carolina, and when that platform became too small, from the floor of the United States Capitol. Thurmond did all this hoisting the banner of the Republican party. A party which all too often has produced men and sometimes women like Thurmond who find it hard to practice what they preach. Such is the nature of American elephants.

Then there was Mark Foley. Everyone who worked with and knew Mark Foley knew he was gay. Everyone except for Mark Foley. Foley was born in the Florida town of Lake Worth to Irish Catholic parents who raised him as a devout Catholic lad. Foley lived the life of the astute Catholic boy marked by service in the Catholic church and attendance at Sacred Heart Catholic School. It was at school that Foley crossed paths with the school priest The Reverend Anthony Mercieca. It was with Mercieca that Foley began a journey of sexual exploration. Mercieca would often take the impressionable Foley on trips that involved sauna baths in the nude, trips his parents unwittingly encouraged. Trips and events that became etched in Foley's psyche and were reproduced when he began fraternizing with young male Congressional pages. Events that would lead Foley to enacting tough laws in Congress. Laws that were meant to prevent young boys like Foley from falling prey to sexual predators like Mercieca. However, Foley's laws were not passed quickly enough to prevent him from morphing into a twenty-first century Mercieca. Foley's life did not end on September 28, 2006 when the story about his inappropriate instant messaging with Congressional pages became public. Let's just say we became privy to the mating habit of an American elephant from Florida. Foley unlike Thurmond is different because he actually passed laws that could lead to his own prosecution. At least Thurmond's laws halted the progress of African-Americans but Foley's were his own death sentence signed with his own blood. While he served in the House Foley developed a reputation as the foremost crusader against child pornography and at one point developed an interest in reviewing a nudist resort for teenagers in Florida. For the landmarks he achieved he signed his one sentence resignation letter when it became apparent that his refusal to do so without prompting could become fodder for a huge public scandal in the Republican party.

The Thurmond scandal and the Foley story are somewhat stale but there's always fresh news in the American savannah. The newest story is about a 17 year old recently engaged or soon-to-be married daughter of the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Historically, the Republican Party has always pushed for family values. However, as though anticipating Sarah Palin's grandchild and the ensuing scandal, they have campaigned less on family values in this election. Understandably, there are more important problems like the economy and the war, so family values can take the back burner. It's quite interesting that the mainstream media has shied away from labeling Bristol Palin as an out-of-wedlock mother a term reserved for low-income earning, projects dwelling, wayward teenagers and instead has chosen to refer to her as newly engaged or soon-to-be married. Put an end to the drama, she is a 17 year old who was sleeping around while her mother was spreading the message of abstinence to Alaskan public schools. I respect her for keeping her child, but most girls in the African-American community keep theirs as well. Yet, they earn the title baby mamas, which although is less derogatory still bears the stench of illegitimacy. In a few months Sarah Palin will welcome what may be her second grandchild because for all we know Trig maybe her first. The stories are as colorful as the individuals but the mating habits remain the same. American elephants scattered across the terrain have similar mating behaviors.

How About Senator John McCain?

The speech we've all been waiting for was finally delivered two nights ago. In his acceptance speech, the Senator from Arizona laid out his plans for the American people. I did not watch the speech in its entirety because I do not quite like Senator McCain's style of delivery. However, I read the transcript on NPR and found it rather poignant. Nonetheless, there are several points in the speech that I do not agree with.

In his opening remarks, McCain thanked the current administration and also was gracious enough to George H. Bush and his wife. It wasn't an accident but rather deliberate that he did not mention the efforts of Bill and Hillary Clinton, a couple who have tirelessly served the American people. McCain made the argument that if elected his administration would work across partisan lines and would give credit where it was due. So, what's the problem with giving a little credit to the Clinton administration for the economic challenges it successfully addressed? So, there goes the first mistake of his speech.

Also, most of the speech was spent attacking the Obama campaign. At times, it almost seemed as though the Obama campaign was synonymous with the current administration. It was sometimes unclear if McCain was attacking the current administration for its failures or the Obama campaign for its proposals. It seems as though he was not sure what route to take in criticizing George Bush and so he superimposed the failures of his party's current administration on Obama.

Another sore point was when the Senator addressed the failing school system. He provided options for parents with children trapped in underperforming schools but failed to mention a program that has become a thorn if the flesh of the current administration; "The No Child Left Behind" reform. How do we in Senator McCain's own words shake up the system and give parents choice? Rewarding good teachers and helping bad teachers find new line of work does not improve the quality of education of any country. There is a root problem when schools underperform. Mostly, it is poverty. His speech did not address what needs to be done in rural Mississippi or Georgia where underperforming schools are the norm and not the exception. For several years, students in the state of Georgia have come in the lowest percentile in performance on the SAT and ACT. How does McCain plan to address that problem? If he needs advice, I'd suggest using community organizers who know the people, but McCain and Palin may be offended by that.

On taxation, the McCain campaign has mentioned that it will keep taxes low. However they have failed to mention who reaps the benefits of the lower taxes. From the analysis of several respected pundits on the issue, yes the McCain campaign has a plan to lower taxes but that plan does not benefit the average income earner. From what I've gathered so far, the reduction is going to serve the needs of the upper echelon of society while people who really need to see their taxes reduced are going to wonder what went wrong with the promises.

On the issue of health care, McCain promises to help Americans find and keep good insurance. News flash, it has always been possible to find and keep good health care. What has not been possible is paying for the good health care so that once it's found it can be kept. The United States has some of the best healthcare facilities the modern world has seen. However, paying for this world marvel is no joke. I recall a visit I made to the doctor a few years ago when I was having some pains that were diagnosed as an ulcer. I went in for a procedure that the technician told me would last 7 minutes but would cost upward of $700. I refused the procedure, went home and ate my way regularly to good health. I found a doctor to attend to me in seconds but I could not have ever afforded the bill even with an insurance plan. Insurance lest we forget is not a philanthropic enterprise. Insurance companies are in it for the money.

Addressing the problem of energy, McCain echoed the sentiments of Palin and Guiliani. They promised to drill for more oil. However, drilling is not the problem distribution is. While drilling may reduce a dependence on foreign oil, I have yet to find an argument that drilling will reduce the cost of energy. In the long run, independence from foreign oil will be good for the national security of this nation but high energy costs will only cause domestic havoc. For the increase in oil prices the nation has experienced over the last couple of months, the relative calm of the American people should be applauded. Only in America can gas prices double without a comensurate salary increase and the people hold their peace. Only in America.

Finally, the most disturbing aspect of McCain's speech was the incessant references to God or to His grace. Since when did McCain become evangelical? It's sad but sweet talking that way has never failed to woo evangelical Christians. The same Christians who snubbed McCain are the same ones who at once offered him support once he asked Palin to join his ticket. Its akin to the United States having friendly ties with Iran simply because Iran goes into a partnership with Great Britain. How does Palin at once make McCain a suitable candidate? James Dobson is now a supporter of the McCain-Palin ticket. How did that happen? Remember my post about how the Convention seemed like a revival? Their Convention style was a ploy to get evangelical Christians on the ticket and they won. I wish the church would open her eyes and seek discernment because for those who listened closely touchy evangelical issues such as gay rights and abortion were left out of the major Convention speeches. Undoubtedly, these Republicans are up to something.

So, for lack of words, it's on. The campaign has began in earnest. The Conventions with their pomp, pageantry and bright lights are over. Now the real work must be done. We must elect the best candidate as President of the United States.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day Three at the Convention

Last night marked the third day of the Republican National Convention. The atmosphere at the arena was much the same as it has been in the last two days but was marked by some great speeches. The notable speeches from the evening were Huckabee's, Guiliani's and Palin's. Huckabee looked markedly sad, and could not help himself from wishing out loud that he were the actual nominee for his party. He praised Obama and applauded the advancement made by Americans for having a man of color as the nominee of a major party. Noting the achievements of his party he lauded their candidate and praised the efforts of his party. In all, he gave a typical "Huckabee" speech.

Then came Guiliani. His speech lasted twice as long and cut into the time for Governor Sarah Palin's acceptance speech. Sure his speech was rousing and energetic and definitely full of Republican propaganda. He rambled on about Senator John McCain's service to country and spent the rest of his alloted slot criticizing Senator Barack Obama. He noted that Barack did not vote on major issues but merely noted his presence on the floor. He turned Obama into fodder for his incessant parody and got huge guffaws from the crowd. If words could break bones Guiliani may have caused a few fractures last night. I have to applaud Guiliani though. He is a great speaker and still has it going on in all respects. Humor, charm, great oratory, and boy did he look heavy.

And how about Palin? She gave the speech of her career last night. She introduced her husband and their five children and significantly failed to acknowledge her unborn grandchild and soon to be son-in-law. She lauded the men and women who serve this nation and mentioned that her son Track would be deployed on September 11 to serve in the war efforts. Like any normal family she noted that her family has their own challenges and are just about as regular as mine and yours. How interesting. I'll have to say that despite my disapproval of the McCain-Palin ticket, Palin did give a very powerful and unifying speech last night. She gave a speech that may have won the hearts of some undecided voters. Making a case about children with special needs she struck a chord with a women who have family member who are special needs individuals. She also resonated with feminists by showing that women could have it all- family and a career. Additionally, she recalled the achievements of McCain, noting once again his integrity and devotion to country. She covered her achievements as governor of Alaska and as mayor. I would have to say that Palin is quite a remarkable woman who has done well for herself.

Her achievements in Alaska in terms of cutting wasteful spending and passing legislature that truly serve the people are remarkable. Proving to be the actual maverick of the party Palin's speech last night reached some very high notes. Having only met Senator McCain a few times before joining the campaign, she seems to have more chemistry as part of his ticket than Obama and Biden have together. It can almost be predicted that if McCain wins the White House, he would have a better working relationship with Governor Palin than Obama will have with Biden. By choosing Palin as his running mate, McCain did what Obama should have considered. Perhaps he should have chosen Hillary Clinton as his running mate. For all Hillary's achievements, it's quite sad that Palin should have a shot at actually becoming a part of the Executive Branch of the government (a title that should have gone to Hillary Clinton). I'm not making the argument that it's Hillary's birthright but who would have thought that Palin an unknown governor from the state of Alaska might come this close.

What was interesting though is it seems as though Palin and Guiliani were comparing notes. They both took on Obama's credentials and heckled his work as an organizer. Guiliani speaking about Obama's work as an organizer sounded more like he was at a comedy show than at a political convention. Same goes for Palin who noted that her job as mayor was similar to Obama's as an organizer except that she had real responsibilities. I hate to admit this but they really stuck the knife in the ham this time. Their heckling was unfair and cold. Community organizers are very vital. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a community organizer. The Civil Rights movement was built around the strength of organizing communities to stand up to white oppression and Jim Crow laws. I know that the attacks on Obama's resume as an organizer was in defense to Palin's mayoral resume been criticized but they both went two far, Guiliani especially. From Palin's speech, I gather that these two are ready for a fight and the debates ahead will be interesting.

The Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

There will always be the fallen heroes. Individuals who fall long and hard on their way to the top or those who reach the top and fall. Eliot Spitzer, Trent Lott, Bill Clinton, Kwame Kilpatrick...I'm actually watching the sentencing of former Detroit mayor, Kwame Malik Kilpatrick. In view of the offenses which include two felony counts, the sentencing should be more severe. However, the plea deal he entered only require that he relinquish all his rights, serve a four month sentence after which he will begin a probation lasting five years and will also have to pay $1 million in restitution.

I'm not sure what the Mayor was going for. Some false air of bravado or if he was just in good spirits. Instead of appearing sober, the Mayor was smug and laughed a couple of times during the proceedings. He even laughed as his sentence was read. He appeared defiant and unrepentant. African-American with more swagger than the entire Lakers team. So, there goes another one. Young and promising public servant has an affair with his Chief of Staff and lies about the affair despite evidence to the contrary. Kwame's gone just like Spitzer left New York so what's next for the city he's leaving behind.

Detroit is America's city that never was. With Kilpatrick's demise the future of the city should be reconsidered. Without doubt, a good Mayor can do so much for any city. Come by Atlanta and see what Shirley Franklin has done for our city. She's revitalized the economy and taken on the sewage problem in the city. Talk about good governance. So while Kilpatrick goes away to serve his sentence let's not forget the important task at hand. What should be done about the city called Detroit?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Stomping in St. Paul

If ever I needed reaffirmation for why I am not a Republican I got that yesterday. Watching the convention, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through the minds of all the people at the Xcel Energy Center. Everything seemed annoying and hypocritical. The Convention seemed more like a Billy Graham Crusade, the exception being loud music than it did a political rally. I'm a huge follower of Pastor Graham but I believe the Republicans are up to something, staging their Convention like a huge revival.

Beginning with First Lady Laura Bush's introduction of her husband down to Joseph Lieberman there was something that just didn't feel right about the Convention. First Laura Bush gave a lack luster introduction. She couldn't be original but had to borrow Obama's slogan about "change we can believe in." This trend was again repeated by Fred Thompson when he hailed Senator John McCain as having "character we can believe in." The sitting President did not deliver his last speech as President to the RNC in person but rather chose to deliver his speech via satellite. He started off by thanking his parents who responded by welling up and beaming pridefully at their son. There would be much to be proud of- he's been President for two terms. But let's face the facts he has done nothing significant for this nation, nothing that will long be remembered.

Every step in Bush's Presidency has been marked by significant failures of all sorts.From his failure to respond effectively in the wake of Katrina, to the War in Iraq, mortgage crisis and the crumbling economy, Bush has done nothing to make a parent proud. It shouldn't come as a surprise though that his Presidency will not be fondly recalled. A Presidency cloaked as this in failure would be cause for sleepless night but not for George Bush. Speaking about his legacy at a press conference the President nonchalantly replied that historians wouldn't care much about him. After all he noted they are not done analyzing George Washington so who would care about 43. He doesn't care what the American people think of him now or in the future. What a sad, sad life. When it's all said and done, he'll be on a ranch in Texas. Keeping his failures in mind, in his address he failed to mention the economy. Further, he did not mention the achievements of his administration. Instead he harped on about McCain heroism in Vietnam, his service to country and his integrity as a man. If you don't care about your legacy, why should anyone about McCain's.

When the President was done speaking, Mrs. Bush came back to the podium to remind us what a fine man her Georgy was. Next was Fred Thompson who gave the speech he should have given earlier in the year to secure the nomination of the Republican Party. The biggest shocker all evening however, was Senator Joseph Lieberman. Can you spell sell out? Seeing Senator Lieberman was totally tragic. He sadly is the last person either party needs. Lieberman made the argument that he was there in honor of country because he believes McCain should be president and not Senator Obama. What a shame! Lieberman at the RNC was just as much a train wreck as Strom Thurmond would have been at the DNC. His lame excuse was that Obama's eloquence was no substitute for McCain's record. How about Sarah Palin? She's never been in Washington and has spent the bulk of her life in a state that boasts more fish and snowballs than people.

Describing the Convention with words like "surreal" and "breathtaking," last night at the RNC was the closest some Republicans have come to an out of body experience. Sadly, I was not moved by the Convention. Not by the evangelical performers (whom I would have enjoyed from a different venue), nor the speeches, nor by the patriotic signs. Judging by what is going on in the White House now I can't see why anyone would even want one more day of another Republican once Bush makes his exit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Specter of Globalization

One of the single most important books I read in graduate school was Clyde Prestowitz's "Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East." The premise of his book was globalization and the rise in economies of countries in the eastern part of the world. Prestowitz starts the first chapters of the book with some interesting statistics on the United States and its economy. He writes: "Go anywhere in the world and people will tell you how much something costs in dollars and will accept dollars without hesitation. Indeed, Americans have a special privilege in this regard: whereas others must first earn dollars in order to buy oil or wheat or Toyotas on the international market, Americans only need to print more dollars. Of the world's 1,000 largest corporations, 423 are American, and the New York and Nasdaq stock exchanges account for 44 percent of the value of all the stocks in the world. The United States is home to the world's finest universities and the overwhelming majority of its leading research centers, and it spends more on research and development than the next five countries combined. It is quite simply, the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever seen." Prestowitz's numbers are awe-inspiring. He notes that America is so powerful that globalization had been criticized as a euphemism for Americanization. In plain English globalization is Americanization.

Globalization certainly is a plus for the rest of the developing world. Personal experiences from living in a developing country are such that I cannot deny how beneficial the reach of the developed world into most of China and South East Asia are. The transfer of services to India and most of South East Asia cuts costs for many American companies and provides jobs that promise an increase in earning power. However, when jobs are outsourced the brunt of being newly unemployed weighs heavily and invariably affects the economy of the United States. Globalization is good for the developing world especially but it can be quite annoying if you've experienced first hand the stories I'm about to share.

On a return trip back from England in March one of my suitcases did not make the journey back to Atlanta. My mom and I flew Delta Airlines and upon returning home, we began the pesky task of filing claims and making calls to Delta to retrieve the luggage. The experience was nothing short of nightmarish. The first call I made was routed to Bangladesh I believe. The customer service representative spoke to me from a script during our entire conversation. She could not answer any of the questions I asked that were not on the script. At one point she began reading the long monologue and I had to do all I could in my power to keep from pounding my head on the wall in frustration. We had lost luggage with some important items in it. I had almost three pairs of shoes in the suitcase and all I kept on hearing over and over again was "Madam we are doing everything in our power to recover your suitcase. We understand the stress you are under...!" I almost wanted to scream. If you understood how I felt we wouldn't be having this conversation between man and machine. I was at a loss. I made over twenty call in the frame of three days and finally I spoke to a supervisor in Atlanta. The most frustrating part of this episode was they were reluctant to transfer me to someone in the United States. Besides, we were separated by time zones and that did nothing to alleviate the issue.

Now, that was March. Today I called Sallie Mae to make sure all my student loans were still simmering in the cauldron of deferment. I had a lot of questions to ask and needed to get some good responses. The representative helping me this time was in Bangalore. It was yet another painful experience. I had to literally spell almost every word to him. He was very nice and courteous but his service was not excellent. We had a challenge understanding each other and in the end he referred me back to the website. Sure, with time I'm sure his services will improve but right now, it's not at the level it needs to be at.

I am an immigrant in the United States and would be more than happy to see jobs outsourced to my country. However, when it comes to outsourcing services, right choices have to be made. It's not helpful to the customer and the overall bottom line of any company when rendering a service becomes like pulling teeth because there is a communication barrier. I've become so used to my calls getting routed to Asia that it's now easy to tell when a call is been answered in a county other than the United States. The line is always fuzzy and the person on the other end seems to really be on the "other end." Is this really good for us the customers. Is it really good for the United States and its so-called powerful companies?

I am all for making the world a global village. I envision a world where time and space barriers are no longer as challenging as they used to be. However, corporations in the United States willing to cut costs need to cut costs elsewhere. Services should not be sacrificed in an effort to balance the books because everyone suffers in the end. While it's easy to forgive Sallie Mae and Delta Airlines for outsourcing calls to Southeast Asia, no one takes the cake on stupidity as much as the United States government for considering outsourcing the management of U.S. ports to the U.A.E. With terrorism becoming "the" issue post September 11, considering the U.A.E was preposterous. That was a classic case of globalization+outsourcing gone south. I don't mean to berate developing economies or their bid to get a share of the globalization pie, but when issues of national security and in this case my student loans are at stake something needs to be done.

Prestowitz does not leave readers hanging without a solution. He notes that there is a significant rise in capitalists across the globe. He puts their number at precisely 3 billion. If you need evidence of what is to come and the challenges that the United States faces please watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Now if you don't call that the new frontier I don't know what is. Simply put, the comfortable life and security blanket the American skies have given its citizens may soon have holes the size of giant craters. When this happens, Prestowitz notes that we'll need new leaders who are visionary and have the ability to ride the tide and think outside the box. Until then, this capitalists wants my Sallie Mae loans managed at Sallie Mae's physical address!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama picks a Bedfellow

In a few hours, Senator Barack Obama will make the announcement we've been waiting for all summer. Through text and email messages his campaign supporters will be notified of Dick Cheney's possible replacement this winter. The name Cheney makes me want to write a ten page essay on how not to be a Vice-President, but I'll restrain myself tonight. It's not clear what significant impact Obama's choice will have on the campaign. However, it would still be a plus if his choice is someone who will further unify the party.

An article in The New York Times yesterday discussed prospective choices and subsequent consequences on the campaign. The article named current Virginia governor Tim Kaine and Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Joseph Biden of Delaware as prospective choices. Of the candidates, I am more familiar with Joseph Biden. I heard Senator Biden speak for the first time almost 5 years ago on the Charlie Rose Show. Hearing him speak gave me a Richard Holbrooke moment (there's nothing like hearing experts discuss foreign policy). He was eloquent, poised and moderately charming. I can almost say I've idolized Biden since then. His expertise in foreign policy will clearly make up for deficiencies Obama has in this arena. Regarding Governor Kaine, I heard him speak for the first time after the Virginia Tech massacre. His speech was not only very eloquent and well paced but was comforting and unifying. I was reminded of Guiliani post September 11. Kaine's speech gave the Commonwealth of Virginia the assurance they needed. Now, I am quite unfamiliar with Senator Bayh and do not remember if I've heard him speak before. Nonetheless, to be considered for the office of Vice-President though is some indication that he has something to bring to the table.

Earlier on in the campaign most people hoped for a Democratic ticket that had a mix of Senators Obama, Edwards and Clinton. We can almost guess that neither Clinton nor Edwards will be on the ticket. Clinton for one does not seem to have the ability to unify the party. Although Senator Clinton is incredibly intelligent and a good politician and would undoubtedly have made a fine President she is just not well liked. Ask Willy Loman. If you haven't read Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," and can't quite understand the benefits of being well liked, then fix your mind on an episode of "The Hills." Politics is a popularity contest. Then, there's Edwards. We went from questioning how he would handle his wife's illness if he got elected to wondering how much of the budget mght be used to pay his occasional playmate.

So for all the buzz, how significant is the American Vice-President? The answer is not much. Most Vice-Presidential candidates do the most work during the campaign than they do once in office. Now I might be exaggerating but really what do the Vice-Presidents do? Few Presidents in office had pleasant relationships with their Vice Presidents. Ask Richard Nixon what he thought of Spiro Agnew. Agnew and Nixon had perhaps the most bizarre of all relationships in modern political history. Nixon made sure Agnew was kept well away from him and excluded Agnew from his decision making processes. For a Vice-President, Agnew was not even part of Nixon's inner circle. At one point they communicated by trading notes back and forth. Or consider Clinton and Gore. How on earth did they ever meet? The two men together do not seem as though they had any chemistry. I find it even hard to picture them as friends who met at the PTA. I'm not sure what the relationship is now but I bet Gore hates Clinton's guts. I've tried to imagine how Clinton told Gore about Monica Lewinsky. I wonder what Gore must have told Bill? Given these examples, the United States does not have a very rosy history of a President who worked well with his Vice-President. Although it seems as though Dick Cheney broke the mold. He seems to have a good working and personal relationship with George Bush, although I wouldn't call him a Vice-President. Most times I forget he is a political figure. He seems constantly removed. Remember him in his parka and boots ensemble at the Holocaust Memorial? Classic.

The United States needs a boost in all respects. Hence, I hope Obama will not make the same historical mistake but will rather choose someone with whom he can work with properly. After having served in an office while in school, the benefit to having a Vice-President you can plan with and delegate responsibilities to is priceless. Politics should never make strange bedfellows but it does. It is quite pointless trying to make a ship go northbound when you have two captains who are not on the same page. I am pretty excited about Obama's selection but I don't want to expect much. This country deserves more than two individuals on an ego-trip who loathe each other but still make for good photographs.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Make mine a Michael

Two nights ago, I was in bed trying to sleep. I don't remember if I was praying for sleep to come or just plain hoping that I would fall asleep. When I realized I wasn't doing any and became aware that I wasn't going to fall asleep, I decided to watch old episodes of my favorite sitcom "Girlfriends." Now, if you aren't of African descent you might not know about the show. "Girlfriends" was sort of the African-American response to "Sex and the City". The show chronicles the lives of four African-American women, Joan an attorney turned lounge proprietress, Lynn an aspiring musician and singer, Toni a real estate "mogul," and Maya, Joan's former administrative assistant now turned authoress as she likes to be called.

The show comes up on the CW normally. Since I wasn't sure of the exact url for the CW I just did a search for girlfriends. Now, I wasn't sure what to expect, any number of things could have come up. The network doesn't have a monopoly on the term, besides it's not quite as cut and dry as say searching for "Frasier" or "Gossip Girl." What came up however on the search shocked me. The server pulled up modified searches of all sorts for "Michael Phelps' girlfriend." Oh no it didn't! Normally, I would have cared to check but I was too tired to care about who the young olympian was dating so I just went ahead and watched my show.

So what's all this buzz about Michael Phelps? Sure he has won more gold medals than I can count on my fingers and half my toes, he is over six feet tall, he has an adoring mother and he sure isn't bad looking. Usually searches on Yahoo! will pull up the most commonly requested key word. So, it seems like a lot of ladies have been searching to see who the young Phelps is dating. I haven't done my research yet, but I kind of feel bad for these girls. Let's be logical here, what are their chances really?

Michael Phelps may or may not have a girlfriend. I haven't checked and will not. But I want to go with the assumption that he doesn't. So for those searching let's examine their chances. Phelps is all the way in China right now. In Beijing to be precise. I don't know what the rules are for the athletes but I bet they aren't spending the bulk of their time staring at ancient ruins or sampling restaurants. Besides he is surrounded by his team mates, coaches, doctors, and other specialists most of the time. Once the games are over, he is likely to return back to the United States. I'm not sure what his life back here is like, but seriously what are the odds for a young girl searching in Pueblo, Colorado?

So why all these searches! The boy doesn't even know half these girls exist. I'm using the term girls loosely though. Some of them may be grandmas for all I know. Michael is one of several billion people on this planet. And the chances of meeting him unless properly executed are few and far between. But I wouldn't rule it out completely. If someone can get into Anderson Cooper's hotel room, then "ain't no mountain high enough." These women will do anything, including buy a ticket and fly all the way to China for a chance with the Phelps.

Do I like Michael Phelps? I like his first name though. He reminds me of my other famous Michael's. Michael Jordan, Michael Johnson, and the favorite of all; Michael Jackson. "Dear Michael Jackson, let me count the ways I love thee. I love thee for thy Neverland Ranch, I love thee for thy high water pants. I love thee for thy sweet, sweet voice, but most of all I love thee for thy nose so slim!" Funny right, but I love Michael Phelps as much as I love the other Michael's.

Michael Phelps is a great olympian and definitely seems like a great kid. However, the craze about him though warranted is severely abnormal. If he were the kid toting around a bottle of perfume at the Abercrombie and Fitch store, some girls would be moved. On the other hand, if he was a manager of the grocery store down the street few girls would notice. So, why all the hype now? He is on television, he's famous now and may have some money to buy some girl a designer purse. Now, they all want him. Wait till I become famous and there will be a ruckus. I'm sure I'll see people hiding in my closet, the trunk of my car and other weird spaces. So, people... I would join in the search to see if I may be the lucky Mrs. Phelps, but sadly I'm not dating younger men right now.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I thought it would make me blog daily but yet it didn't. My PC semi gave up the ghost late last year. I am not a computer addict, but I have a tendency to hug my laptop and can be on the PC surfing the internet for hours on end. When my PC died, I suffered. I had withdrawal symptoms. I sat down and tapped my fingers on an imaginary keyboard. I right clicked my way through half the day. I opened up several tabs; CNN on one, Slate on the other, and of course my gossip site on another. I read the news, pausing to take everything in the back of my mind.

I wanted to blog so badly, but I didn't want to be confined to sitting in a lone chair for hours staring at a desk top. I wanted to blog sitting up in bed. I wanted to blog when I got inspired while cooking or watching AC360. I wanted to blog on my own terms on my own computer. Then, it was tax-free weekend in Georgia. I stood in line the first day for a consultation. I came back the next day, to make my first contribution to the Steve Jobs Family Foundation. I bought a Mac.

I thought my MAC would make me blog daily, but it didn't. It's amazing how that three letter word represents some of the most beloved things. Make Up Art Cosmetics, Macintosh...I love my MAC. I got some nice new toys along with it. They cunningly call giving me those presents a rebate. I accepted. I couldn't say no to a color printer whose ink is more than it's worth or an ITouch. I am more than happy to have these new toys. It's been over half a month since I got my MAC and still I haven't blogged.

I might sound philosophical, but there's never a right time to blog. There's never a right time to do anything because the right time just never comes, so just do it! I'm reminded of the analogy of humans to lobsters waiting for some wind of fate to spur them into action. I waited so long for this was my excuse for not blogging and when it finally came, it was my excuse for not blogging still. What's your excuse?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Globetrotting Eurabia

In a few days, the Senator from Illinois will complete his semi-world tour. It's interesting to note that the Senator from Illinois is also the Democratic Presidential nominee. So far, Barack Obama's world tour has made a stop in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and also Iraq. These three countries are all potentially dangerous not just because they are politically unstable but also because they all are in the Middle East. It is common knowledge that now more than ever American interests in the Middle East and Americans themselves cannot be guaranteed any solid measure of safety. So far, Obama has managed to go through these three countries unscathed which is significant. The motive behind his trip still is quite unclear and getting rather murky as it progresses.

Ever since the campaigns started, Senator John McCain has repeatedly flaunted his so-called statesmanship and knowledge of world affairs against Obama's own naivete on the subject. Obama surely has a lot to learn about international relations; that's a given. He has only been in national politics prominently for three years. If he is a little shaky when it comes to issues on an international scale it is quite expected. However, making a week long trip to Europe and the Middle East does not fix the issue. If anything it only worsens it and exposes Obama to more attacks by his critics. I think there's a slight default in a level of common sense with this issue. It seems counterintuitive to make a so called flash in the pan trip to several different countries for photo co-ops with world leaders to prove that you are a good statesman or that you could be a good statesman. If anything, Obama's place at this moment should be at home, attending to pressing domestic issues and broadening his knowledge of international affairs with the aid of his advisors.

Besides the miscalculation with this trip, it seems somewhat unprecendented. Although he has made it known several times that he is making the trip as a United States Senator, the presumptiveness of his motives cannot be ignored. It seems like a preliminary visit to familiarize himself with his future "colleagues." Obama seems to be making the point that he is already Commander-in-Chief and not just another candidate vying for office. Obama's actions are rather disturbing because any good student of the United States Presidency knows that the Oval Office has not been jointly occupied. From FDR until George W. Bush there has been a continuity from one leader to the next. There have been no so-called in office coups or adventures in usurping the President's power. Bush is still in office and Obama seems to forget that. Perhaps unbeknownest to him he is advertising his agenda for the Middle East as though he were already the President. It's as though he's saying: "forget the guy in office. Talk to me because soon you'll be doing so."

While Obama's trip will definitely increase his likeability abroad and give him a personal sense of accomplishment I think it is unnecessary. It's geared more at gaining more points in a so-called popularity contest than in gaining any tangible international knowledge or learning the craft of statesmanship. If anything, Obama is giving McCain an edge and further exposing himself to more criticism. You don't solve a problem by exacerbating it and you definitely do not try to play President when the White House is still occupied. Granted, before this trip is over Obama will definitely make a blunder that will haunt him until November. He will reinforce certain stereotypes about him trying to take over, like the recent NewYorker gaffe.

In the event that Obama's trip is given high grades by the media what will be the implication of his visit for future Presidential hopefuls? We all want a President who will look good on an international stage. Americans also increasingly need someone who will speak well in international circles. Hence, if visits of this sort become the norm who should be allowed to participate and at what point. Would a trip of this sort have allowed voters to see Hillary Clinton as a Commander-in-Chief if she had made one in the heat of the primaries and caucuses? Obviously for some it is doing it for Obama. He is now been seen as "Presidential." Consequently, Obama's trip adds another caveat to campaign season. It sets the precedent that elections can no longer be contested on the homefront solely but must be done internationally as well. It may help to see our future candidates on an international stage where language often might be a barrier and diplomacy on all levels has to be applied. While Obama's trip is interesting I am still not sure what the exact motives are but anticipate that he will use his findings against his critics in the coming weeks.