Radio Raheem for a new generation

Twenty-five years is a long time. I have many memories of the Summer of 1989, and one of them was going to see a movie that shook me up, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” And apparently, the current president and his then-girlfriend saw the movie too that summer, as evidenced by the film clip above.

The event that sets off the riot that marks the high point of the movie was the strangulation death of a character named Radio Raheem. I was appalled as the police placed his character in a choke hold and ended his life. It touched off a riot where Sal’s Pizza gets destroyed, and Mookie–Spike Lee’s character–leads the way by throwing a garbage can through his boss’ window. I walked out of the movie examining American society, and that was clearly what everyone in the theater was supposed to be doing.

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Now flash forward a quarter century, to the tragic case of Eric Garner. Whatever it was he may or may not have been doing on the streets of New York on a Thursday afternoon, he met with the same fate that Radio Raheem did in Spike Lee’s movie, all those years ago.

But Eric Garner had a family, unlike the fictional creation that Radio Raheem was. Still, it seems hard to believe that our current president, who apparently remembers the movie very well, doesn’t have something to say about how life–and death– has imitated art.

Leadership involves, well, doing the right thing. And when an unarmed black man is choked to death on the streets of New York, or any other city, it’s something we should reflect upon.

Yes, we have an African American president, which twenty-five years ago did not seem possible. And yes, he has other issues to deal with, from Gaza to the border issue. But an unarmed black man died at the hands of police in our largest and most visible city. I’d very much like to hear what our president has to say about it. Even if he channels that young man who took his girlfriend on a date to see a movie 25 years ago, it would be worth listening to.

It may be the last time, I don’t know

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I went through this entrance to the Lincoln Restaurant a hundred times, at least. Having breakfast there was a Sunday tradition in the days before my kids were born. And now, unfortunately, it’s shut down.

I hadn’t eaten there in a long while before it happened, and few restaurants get as long of a run as they had on Lincoln Avenue and Irving Park Road in Chicago. So worse things are going on in the world than this. And yet….

I wish there was some way to know when the last time I went there really would be the last time. And that goes for lots of things in life. If you know it’s the end, you can soak it all in and enjoy it a little bit more.

That’s what Barack Obama did at his second inauguration last year. He knew it wasn’t coming back again, so he spent a few seconds enjoying the view. There was something very human in that moment, no matter what anyone might think about him personally.

But we don’t always get that kind of a heads up. We go to places and we do things every day not knowing if, or whether ever, we’ll get a chance to do them again. Will the passport that I’m now waiting in line for be my last one? I hope it isn’t, but life won’t let me know that for certain, either.

The only thing to do is appreciate the uncertainty, and hope that the passport will get some use along the way. I’m sure that I’ll write something about it when it does.

From one brilliant president to another

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The only guest post I’ve ever had, in the more than 1,100 posts I’ve put here through the years, was a tweet that Barack Obama sent out on the night he was re-elected. He went out and spoke to his supporters after sending it, but those who follow him on Twitter got to hear the news of his re-election first. As a social media dabbler, I loved that gesture.

Today’s post isn’t a guest post, per se, but it is a statement on Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address that is eloquent and very appropriate. I’ll just shut up and let anyone who hasn’t seen it take it all in.

Thanks to President Obama for capturing what Lincoln’s speech means, and how it still applies–and will always apply–to the American nation. Bravo, Mr. President!

Predictions for 2012

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Here’s something I started writing on December 29, 2011. I saved it as a draft, and never gave it much thought until I discovered it this morning. Other than overstating Obama’s electoral vote totals, I think I was pretty prescient. Here’s my not-quite-a-year-ago predictions:

OK, so I’m not that much of a prognosticator, but there is a whole new year stretching out before us in a matter of days, so here’s my best guess:

President Obama will win reelection. I think he wins a majority of states, and probably 350+ electoral votes. Lots of money will be spent, and the media will try to make it a “down to the wire, anybody can win” race, but it won’t be close in the end. Obama won’t even have to break a sweat.

Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination. The primary season will fizzle out after the big Super Tuesday results, and nobody will be able to stop Romney as he runs away from the field.

Nobody–Ron Paul included–will mount a third party candidacy for President. Such campaigns are ultimately doomed to fail, and Paul and his people will decide not to go there.

Saving the paper

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Yesterday I had some time to kill while my car was being worked on. The usual procedure is to go into their waiting room, get a cup of coffee, and flip through a magazine as the mechanics are working their magic. But yesterday was a bit different than that.

Around the corner from the car dealership is a resale shop, which is closer to a standing estate sale. I’m sure that their inventory comes directly from estate sales, where after the estate sale is closed and people have carted away what they want, a significant amount of  detritus still remains from the deceased person’s life. The things that a deceased person thought enough of to hold on to in life, but don’t have any similar meaning for those who are still left on the earth. Things that are probably going to end up in a dumpster, unless someone steps in and assumes ownership of them.

I went to this place, with the intention of filling up the time I had to wait for my car. As I moved through the items, looking for interesting items to pick up–or at least write about on my blog–the perfect item came to me. I didn’t buy it, but I’m more than happy to write a few words about it in this space.

The item was a copy of the Chicago Tribune from August 18, 1977. Elvis Presley had just died, and the paper was filled with stories about his life and career and impact on music and on American culture. And someone, all those years ago, did the same thing that I did whenever important events occurred: they saved the day’s newspaper.

In today’s world, nobody really does this anymore. We read about events online, and we watch television coverage of the event itself, but there’s no reason to save a newspaper when you don’t read newspapers to begin with. But the internet didn’t exist for most people back in 1977. If you wanted to learn about these events, and you wanted to help record the event for posterity, you grabbed whatever newspapers you could find and you put them away somewhere.

The paper from the day before Elvis died wound up in the trash, but the paper from the day after Elvis died was special, at least to this person. Throwing that paper away would have felt like a denial that his sudden passing was significant in some way. And so they held onto it instead, to prove that something important had happened, and that they were alive to see it.

When Barack Obama was elected back in 2004, and took the oath of office back in 2005, there was still a remnant of that left. I remember waiting in a line at the Chicago Sun-Times to buy a copy of that day’s paper. People would have, in an earlier time, just held on to the paper that was delivered to their house that morning. But home delivery of a newspaper isn’t so widespread anymore. People like myself, who were out of the newspaper-reading habit, had to make an effort to obtain a newspaper. It’s a sign of the times, really. As fewer and fewer people are familiar with reading a newspaper in a physical form, the act of saving a paper for posterity will become a thing of the past, if it isn’t already . That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something worth pointing out.

I walked out of the resale shop, without the newspaper or anything else. I walked back to the dealership, and my car was waiting for me when I arrived. And as I got into my car and drove off, I found myself whistling a few notes from “Heartbreak Hotel.” I suppose Elvis’ legacy goes beyond what you could find in an old newspaper, anyway.

The social media president

Over the next four years, there will probably be many instances where I can look at President Obama and say “I like what he just did” It was like that when he sang “Sweet Home Chicago” at the White House recently. When Mick Jagger hands you a microphone, and Buddy Guy wants you to sing, and B.B. King is playing his guitar for you, you just have to go with it, and that’s exactly what he did.

And so it was when members of the U.S. Gymnastics team went to the Oval Office to meet the President lately. McKalya Maroney became an internet meme with the “not impressed” look on her face at the Olympics last summer, and the President not only knew about it, but he asked her to make that face with him, then had a picture taken of it, and then sent it out on Twitter, where it’s now gone viral.

Whether you like social media or not, it seems that the President is fully on board with it, and is willing to use it, too. As someone who not only writes a blog but has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, and a few others I can’t think of right now, I say good for you, Mr. President. You’re blazing a trail for other public officials to follow, if they’re smart enough to see the possibilities that it has.

Pizza and the Presidential debates

I see the term “wiping the floor” used a lot in politics, especially with regard to the recent Joe Biden-Paul Ryan meeting in Kentucky. And every time I hear it, I cringe a little bit. Is this an exchange of ideas, or an arm-wrestling match? And if your guy–whoever it might be–somehow does succeed in “wiping the floor” with the other guy, will it really change anything? Anything at all? I very much doubt that it would.

By this stage in the game, most people have made their minds up about the whole idea of a second term for president Obama. Either you want that to happen, or you don’t. And the idea that there’s still a sizable chunk of the electorate that can be swayed one way or the other is silly, in my opinion.

I’ll give an example of what I mean. Like most people, I like eating pizza. So much so that even if I had the most terrible pizza that’s ever been put together, I might walk away and tell others how bad it was, but I’ll go back to eating pizza again the very next time I can.

And so it is with President Obama and his challenger. If you’re convinced that Obama must go, and his opponent is somehow reduced to a sputtering mess by the force of Obama’s reasoning tonight, are you ever going to think “You know, maybe four more years wouldn’t be such a bad thing for the country”? No, of course not. You’d say “Well, Obama didn’t play fair” or “Romney had an off night” or something along those lines.

The next two televised joint appearances (I can’t quite find it in me to call them “debates”) will happen, because the politico-industrial complex has declared that they should, but you’ll find more meaningful action watching the Yankees try to solve Jason Verlander instead. That’s just my opinion, though. It’s all you can ever expect to find in this space.

Home, home again

Wednesday evening, O’Hare Airport

The plane touched down a few minutes early and the plane de-boarding began as usual. The terminals at O’Hare seem excessively long, especially late at night when the bustle has ended for the day. But there are bags that must be claimed, and a cab that must be hired before the short end-of-the-summer trip can officially be declared over. So it’s time to get walking.

After the bags have been picked up from the conveyor belt, I followed the arrows toward the cab stand. And I noticed a television with Paul Ryan’s face, and his strangely hypnotic gaze. The sound was down, but the captions were on, any anyone who had an interest in what he was saying could have stopped to listen to the points that he was making. It shouldn’t be too surprising that no one did, however.

There are airports and other public places where Ryan’s speech might have gained interest, and perhaps even great interest. But here, nobody was listening to his sales pitch.

This is President Obama’s backyard, and Illinois will go for the incumbent this fall. And  the bombardment of political ads in the “battlegound” states, such as the one that I just came from, isn’t happening here. And for this reason, among many others, I tell myself I’m glad to be home.

The letters tell me something

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One of my favorite websites is the anagram finder at wordsmith.org. It’s fun to take someone’s name, enter it into the finder, and see what comes up. Sometimes, the letters form words that indicate something about the person in general. For instance, an anagram for Clint Eastwood is “Old west action” and, judging from the movies he’s been in over the years, it would be hard to argue that this doesn’t apply.

I put in the names of the President and his apparent rival into the anagram finder, and got some interesting results. “Barack Obama” yields things like “Maraca Kabob”  and “Boa Cab Karma” with the words “Back” and “Karma” coming up over and over. But nothing too exciting or relevant, I thought.

Then I typed in “Mitt Romney” and saw what came up. “Metro Minty” was sort of funny, and “Me trim Tony” is strange and humorous at the same time. But I noticed a pronounced pattern among the anagrams that came up: Most of them contained the words “I”, “me”, “my”, or “mine”, none of which can be found in the name of his opponent. And it seems very fitting for these words to be in there, in my view.

Mitt Romney has done extraordinarily well for himself over the course of his life. But what’s good for his “me” isn’t, and won’t be, good for the royal “we.” He’ll make out very well, if he should win the election, but there’s no reason to suspect that his good fortune will be America’s, as well. And the anagram finder thus revealed something that I suppose I already knew.