Standing at the Wall

It’s the night before a Presidential election, which will be the 12th one of my lifetime (although that first one was just a few weeks after I was born), I’ve been tired of the process, as it has played itself for well over a year now. Since I voted early, it’s almost as if tomorrow will be anticlimatic, except for the part about getting to find out who actually won. I’ll probably be watching the returns with bated breath at this time tomorrow night.

I was driving home tonight, as still another political ad was playing on the radio. In the depths of my despair over this, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I knew it was there, and have driven it past it hundreds of times before, but tonight it demanded my attention. So I turned off into a parking lot and went to answer the call I had received.

Inside the Brown line station at Western Avenue on Chicago’s north side, there is a complete section of the Berlin Wall. The wall was put up around an existing wall in East Berlin beginning back in 1975, and lasting until about 1980. A child my age who lived in East Berlin back then had only known life behind that wall.

The West Berlin side of the wall section has lots of colorful graffiti on it, while the East Berlin side is gray and solemn. You didn’t mark on that wall–or even get very close to it–without putting yourself in considerable danger. And free elections on that side of the wall? No way. That’s just how life was on East Berlin’s side of the wall.

I chose to stand on that side of the wall tonight. I realized very well that those behind the wall could have only dreamed about the chance to make their voice heard on election day. Over the course of a generation–from the early 1960s to the very end of the 1980s– hundreds of East Berliners died attempting to get over that wall. Those who lived on communist side of the wall would certainly wonder where I was coming from with my disdain for the electoral process, and the choices it allows us to make.

I snapped a few pictures, one of which appears above. Then I shut my eyes and tried to imagine growing up behind a wall. The thought that the wall might ever come down simply never occurred to me, as I growing up far, far away in the United States.

I’m sure that East Berliners would have loved the chance to hear a political attack ad on the radio, and then go to a polling booth and cast a vote. None of them would ever feel the way I do about this, either.

So I counted my blessings, standing there on the East Berlin side of the wall. I felt glad to live in the country that first tried out democracy, and then kept on practicing it for centuries afterward. As the United States was guarding its democracy, the Soviets built a wall which, as John Mellencamp once sang, came crumblin’ down back in 1989. I never thought that would happen, either.

For those with no large section of the Berlin Wall nearby, I would suggest considering the Cold War, and what seemed like the permanence of it all up until the end of the 1980s. See if that doesn’t make tomorrow’s election appear in a positive new light.

And If you haven’t done so already, go out and VOTE tomorrow. I approve this message!


Just call him Mitt Loaf

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I think I’ll take my old copy of Bat Out of Hell and throw it away now. Enjoy this before someone makes a copyright claim to put it out of its misery.

UPDATE: And sure enough, some group named Red Pony Tours put in a copyright infringement claim. Apparently their job is to shield Mr. Romney and/or Mr. Loaf from being embarrassed.

Still worthless

I picked my daughter up at school today, and then we proceeded to drive home. Along the way, we stopped at a red light, and there was a restaurant off to my left. I glanced at the TV screen inside the restaurant, and was greeted by Brian Williams doing the NBC Nightly news. I couldn’t hear him, but still my eyes remained on the screen while the red light was in effect.

The screen then changed, revealing an image of Barack Obama on the left, shaded in blue, and Mitt Romney on the right, shaded in red, with 47 percent under each of their smiling visages. I tried to get my cameraphone working in order to capture the image, but before I could the light changed and it was time to move.

Back in July, I wrote something on this issue and sure enough, things haven’t changed a bit in the three months since then. It will be 47% for each candidate, right up until the time the election takes place. Why? Because the media that produces the content that fills our airwaves needs it to be so. They need a horse race, and so they give us a horse race. And they will never give us anything but that. The only thing to do is to recognize it for what it is, and turn away from their profits-driven, democracy-killing game.

Vote for Obama, vote for Romney, vote for any candidate you want, or don’t even vote at all when the time comes. Just don’t expect the media to ever provide anything other than the 47%-47% horse race that they always do.

The Romney Files, Part II

To follow up on my earlier post with a number of pieces about the Republican nominee for President, here are some more of the thoughts that have previously appeared in this space.

I worked one of my favorite writing topics, the music of Bruce Springsteen, into a post that appeared in early August. To the surprise of no one, Obama has since received the Springsteen endorsement.

When Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, they got into some trouble with musicians who weren’t willing to lend their music to the Romney campaign. I wrote this piece near the end of August.

I found myself in Florida at the same time that the Republican convention was gearing up, and I came face to face with a gated community. Of course, I wrote my thoughts on this matter and put them in this space.

I also found an assertion of the “You didn’t build that” theme when I was in Florida. It wasn’t long after I returned home that I poked some holes in that argument.

I stayed away from politics for the rest of September, but as October rolled around, that began to change. It started with a discussion of the circumstances surrounding Romney’s run-in with the law back in 1981.

Romney’s promise to cut off funding for PBS in the first Presidential debate sure caught my attention. This is the type of message that I write this blog for.


The second Presidential debate wasn’t really going to change anyone’s mind about who to vote for, but it did get me thinking about pizza.

Early voting starts soon, and election day itself is almost here. I won’t miss writing about any of these topics, either.

What you can measure, and what you can’t

My youngest daughter is in fourth grade. As she moves away from the primary grades, her teachers are encouraging her and her classmates to move from concrete, quantifiable thinking into more abstract, qualified terms. As we get older, it’s important to realize that concepts like happiness can’t be measured, but in many ways those are the things we need to have in our lives.

So when Willard M. Romney (I’ve decided I’m not going to use the cuddly little moniker for him anymore) gets on television and tells the world he will eliminate all funding for PBS, it’s just one more reason–and there are many of them already–why I could never vote for him to be president. It’s a simple case of quantities and qualities, and my own life experience.

Back in the early 1970s, before I even started kindergarten, children’s television didn’t really exist. But PBS, and the Children’s Television Workshop, received federal dollars and used them to create programs like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I watched these shows, and learned things that made me who I am today. I learned letters and numbers, yes, but I also learned about things like sharing, cooperation, and the power of imagination.

As a child, we’re more open to all of these things than we’ll ever be again. My parents hopefully provided some of these things in the home, but they couldn’t make me laugh like Kermit the Frog or Count von Count could. So a large part of who I am today is due to these shows.

The costs of producing these shows can be quantified by the level of funding that PBS received and distributed. But the good that this programming did can’t possibly be known. Is society $50,000,000 better off today than it would be if I were in jail for stealing a car or killing someone over a gambling debt? I don’t know. I’ve never done those things, and I never would either, because I started off school knowing things and using that to build my confidence to want to learn more. There’s no dollar figure that can be assigned to that, for me or for anybody else in a similar situation. But whatever money PBS received, it’s all come back to society in ways we can never really comprehend.

So when candidate Romney proposes lowering the boom on Big Bird and his cohorts, he’s writing off the benefits that these shows have undoubtedly brought over the past 40 years. All to save a few dollars. For him, it’s simply a question of quantity over quality. And for me, it’s Exhibit A for why he is unworthy to hold the highest office in this land.

No, we ain’t gonna take it

I just came across a story that Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and like Silversun Pickups, doesn’t want the Republican presidential candidates using his music at their campaign rallies.

Romney and Ryan are trying to boost their support in some quarters by appropriating rock and roll, but they may just as well be singing the Rock and Roll Blues. And as the song goes, it’s only rock and roll, but I like it. Yes I do.

What “that” is

Thursdays are the last day that I drive into the office during the week. Friday traffic in Chicago is bad, no matter where you’re driving to or when you’re on the road, so fortunately I can work at home on Fridays. But I had an epiphany of sorts when I was on the road this morning, and I wanted to explain it here.

Every time I’m on the road, I see dozens of the vans or trucks like the one pictured above. I think of them as “ladder vans” because they’re pretty easy to spot with the ladder on top. And the people driving them are the people that Mitt Romney is trying so hard to mislead, based on something that President Obama said recently in Virginia. So I’m going to do what I can to clear things up, to the extent that anyone pays attention to what’s in this space.

Here is a video clip of the president’s remarks (with captions included):

The president’s remark about “You didn’t build that” doesn’t refer to the business, as epitomized by the van with the ladder on top. The “that” being referred to is the American system of roads and bridges. The things that exist for the ladder vans to be driven on in the first place. The things that make it possible for these vans to get to wherever their jobs are that day. Without those roads, which all of us pay for and all of us collectively own, those ladder vans have no purpose at all.

This might sound like socialism to some, but when it snows, who clears the streets? We all do, through our tax dollars. If a big pothole opens up in the street, does any one citizen have the burden of fixing that hole? No, we all do it, through public funding which comes from the taxpayer.

Anyone who buys a van or a truck and puts a ladder on top and uses that van or truck upon the public roads reaps the benefit of the “that” which President Obama was referring to. And if there’s someone who doesn’t get the President’s point, and continues to believe that a van or a truck is all it takes to make a business grow, there really isn’t too much more to say, except “ain’t that a shame” how someone can be mislead so easily.

Safe from British bullets

Mitt Romney’s gone across the pond, and so far it’s not gone well for him. If the idea was to make him seem presidential on the global stage, it’s turned into just the opposite. If you don’t believe me, consider that #RomneyShambles is the top trending item on Twitter as I write this. It won’t be that forever, I know, but this is entirely self-inflicted on his part.

What seemed to get the ball rolling, so to speak, was the Romney adviser who claimed that President Obama did not understand the “shared history” between the United States and United Kingdom. The advisor who supposedly said this has not been named publicly, and Governor Romney has disavowed it, but it’s still another case of trying to paint the President as an outsider, as the “other.” Never mind that tens of millions of Americans thought otherwise in 2008, and will vote for him again when the time comes this fall. But Romney understands that special relationship in a way that Obama can not, at least in his advisors’ warped minds.

But the “shared history” between the two nations isn’t all goodness and light. Yes, the British are our ally today, and have been for 100 years. But go back a bit further than that, and you’ll find it was once a different story.

In 1768, John Hancock of Boston was suspected of illegally importing madeira wine from Portugal on his boat, named the Liberty. The boat was then seized by British ships, who were enforcing a duty on imported goods like madeira wine. Patriots like Captain Daniel Malcom objected to this seizure, and unrest raged in the streets of Boston. It became known as the Liberty Affair, and gave Malcom and others in Boston another reason to hate the unelected and tyrannical king of the nation that is now our ally, but once upon a time was an oppressor unlike any other.

Captain Malcom’s role in this affair has been immortalized for centuries on the walls of Boston’s Old North Church, and a copy of this tale appears above. But the most humorous and ironic part of it all is the name of the British frigate that was at the center of the whole thing. Fittingly enough, the frigate was named the Romney.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Is there any connection between a British ship from 1768, and the man running for President in 2012? Not directly, no. But the name itself serves to remind us that this “shared history” isn’t without its blemishes. Which country once set fire to the White House, and attacked Fort McHenry as Francis Scott Key got the idea for the “Star-Spangled Banner“? And here’s  a hint: The Kenyans had nothing to do with it.