Fame Is Fast And Fleeting: My 13 Seconds

Andy Warhol spoke of 15 minutes of fame. I settled for 13 seconds on the 10 pm news last Sunday.

My wife and I were in downtown Chicago walking to dinner with friends. As we are about to cross the street we are approached by a guy with a microphone and his buddy with a large video camera. The microphone had the logo of NBC5, the local Chicago affiliate. Always willing to mug for a camera we stopped. The topic?  The about to be published New Yorker magazine with a “satirical” drawing of Barack and Michelle Obama.

The New Yorker called it satire. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Obama “said Tuesday that the New Yorker magazine’s satirical cover depicting him and his wife as flag-burning, fist-bumping radicals doesn’t bother him but that it was an insult to Muslim Americans.”

Want to know what I thought?  Watch the video. I am the one who get the most talk time. And one of the best looking!

Fame. I know of at least 7 people who saw me on TV either Sunday night or Monday morning. It’s Wednesday now and I am all but forgotten…until my next big break. Time to expand my media empire.

 

Obama Wins On Race

Thanks to the magic of YouTube I just experienced Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union Speech”.  I knew he had delivered it, I knew the reasons why and had read or heard various commentaries– some providing thunderous applause and others citing flaws. But I had not listened to it myself. So after a long day, a bit of dinner and 30 minutes of “Dancing With The Stars”, it was time.

It was fantastic. Not in a Hollywood magic bigger than life personality way. He is capable of that. His more matter-of-fact delivery belied the manner in which he addressed very complex issues with richness of thought rarely heard these days. 

First he set the context for his thoughts by describing the challenges that the founders of this country had in setting the course for our country. The words on the pages were right, such as equal citizenship under the law, but to achieve consensus they excluded an entire portion of the people who already were a part of the nation.

He then addressed his relationship with his pastor, a man who has been public with hateful thoughts. It would have been easy, even expected for Obama to admonish the man as well as the words and distance himself in order to support his campaign. Instead he denounced the rhetoric but painted a picture of a multifaceted man and church community built upon the black experience in America. People of contradictions. There was much good but also some hate. He acknowledged that and rightly pointed this out as a common experience among whites.

He went on to call out the need for continued dialogue on the race issue but called on all Americans to begin to focus on common problems.  The economy, the poor qualityu of our education, healthcare and global warming. These are problems that have no color. He spoke of the hope for our country. That we have improved and can do so more.

That’s what he spoke about but why did I find the speech fantastic? 

He did not dumb down his thoughts to the simplistic themes and easy sound bites so popular these days. He made us listen to the complexity of issues, of personal relationships, and of people. We are complex, multifaceted and often contradictory. I have yet met no person or people that is all wrong or all right, any issue that is merely black or white. (Pun only modestly intended.)

He did not do the safe thing.

He brought dialogue to the situation. Far too often we are entrenched in our views. This entrenchment leads to hate. To a culture of I am right and you are wrong. We need more intelligent discussion. To not be afraid to state our opinions.

This is not just a white American/African-American issue. I can go nowhere without hearing languages and seeing clothes that I did not know from my childhood. I grew up in a very American/western European centric world. Now what I hear are words that sound Asian, eastern European or African. I now pass women in saris, male Muslims in skullcaps or people in turbans. All this without traveling outside the metropolitan area.

We have had over 200 years to address the black vs. white issues. We now need to address the Judeo-Christian vs. Muslim issues and recognize the differences between the radicals and the rest. No stereotypes. No prejudgements. Get to know someone not like you. This is what I read into Barack Obama’s speech.

After almost eight years of a mind numbing President that has had trouble stringing a few coherent thoughts together it was delightful to listen to a mind expanding man who makes us think.

It is worth the 37 minutes.

UPDATE

As reported in the Chicago Tribune:

On Tuesday, Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, weighed in directly, saying: “I think that given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor.”

This is what I meant by taking the easy way out. Cut and run to placate voters is easy. Addressing complex issues and relationships in an intelligent way is leadership.

Is It Just Me?

I am not one who believes that the entire private life of public people needs to be shared with the world. Even politicians should be allowed the occasional error in judgement as long as the act was not illegal or took advantage of their office.

Having said that this is too much irony. The people of the great state of NY must be proud.

New NY Governor Admits Affairs Years Ago

Spitzer Resigns!

No kidding. Soon to be followed by the headline “Spitzer Sued for Divorce.”

If I had spent $80,000 on prostitutes the headline would read “48Facets Bludgeoned by Wife. Jury Acquits.”

Despots 2, People 1

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This was intended to be topical but I am weeks behind. Let me take you to the not too distant past in my Way Back Machine.

Putin, Musharraf, Chavez. Three despots , two of whom were democratically elected, all manuvering to become Ruler for Life. Two are well on their way. One hit a wall.

Let’s start with Putin. He is in the last months of being the Russian President. Russia’s constitution limits the number of consecutive terms. What are the choices. Retire or change the constitution are the two that most quickly come to my mind. But that is the reason, or at least one reason, why I am not ruler of a major country.

Instead, why not take plan to the prime minister job, one not as powerful in Russia as President but that can be manipulated. Then throw your considerable political muscle behind someone you have mentored his entire governmental career for the president role. Not that you suspect that you can control him. Of course not. Then after one four year term by his hand picked lackey Putin is eligible to run for president again. Brilliant.

What does all this political maneuvering get you? First,  an article in the December 13 issue of The Economist subtitled:

“Vladimir Putin’s bid to remain in power is bad for Russia, for democracy and for the world”

(Yes that is the entire world being referred to. A really big place.)

Oh, btw it also gets you Time magazine’s Person of the Year award. At least they had the sense to subtitle the article “A Tsar is Born”.

Or you can take Musharraf’s approach. Take control in a military coup. Get on the good side, and substantial funding side, of the world’s most powerful country by becoming an indispensable piece of the War on Terror, from time to time use a little military force and police action to put down opponents, practice (and fail once) at removing the head of the supreme court who is one of the few people willing to stand in the way of absolute power, rig an election to make sure you win and then just before you might be booted out by the courts you declare martial law in order to save democracy. I believe that he found this recipe in the Rachel Ray’s new cookbook 30 Minute Democracies under the dictator for life section between lite appetizers and desserts.

I take very little comfort in how he has given up leadership of the military or supposedly restored the constitution. He has already stacked the Supreme Court with people who have sworn loyalty and made changes to the constitution which among other things hold that nothing that happened during martial law can be declared illegal. Key members of the opposition are still under house arrest and I do not have great faith that the upcoming elections will be truly free and without manipulation.

Then there is poor Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected, socialist president of Venezuela. he has been riding high. Locally popular, his country’s economy and status raising with oil prices. He seems invincible. But no. First, the King of Spain tells him to “shut up” and the bit of video on this becomes a YouTube hit. Then he tries to take the more conventional route to ruler for life by holding an election to change the constitution in ways that would give him more power and no term limits. Amazingly he loses. How did that happen? Simple. He was so confident in victory that he forgot to rig the elections.

Here is what amazes my very jaded view of much of the world. It seems that in many countries there either exists an absolute ruler or the ones that come to power find ways to stick around for as long as they like. Therefore Chavez’s loss provides incredible hope.

Now look at the U.S. for the last eight years. Perhaps some rights have been stepped on. The Bush administration has certainly pushed the limits of executive power and privilege to move the President’s agenda ahead.  And yet, even with 2 Supreme court appointments no one is going for the Ruler for Life title. I admit I had expected another Bush would have made it to the presidential campaigns but I was wrong.

It is hard to tell whether or not the mere fact that our term limits work are a large or small victory. I would still rather be here than Russia.

A Potpourri of Thoughts

  1. Political Dynasties. The Bushs and Clintons have nothing on the Gandhis. Rahul Gandhi was appointed a general secretary of the Congress party, in charge of youth affairs a couple of months ago. This puts him on a path to prime minister of India, a role previously held by his great grandfather, his grandmother, his uncle and his father.
  2. Watching the Watchdogs. The SEC is concerned that the major credit rating agencies, Moodys and S&P may be too close to those whose debt they are rating. The system is set up poorly and they have a near monopoly. Will we need agencies to watch the agencies set up to watch others. In theory this could be a never ending cluster f–k.
  3. New War Strategy. The northeast section of Kunar province in Afghanistan is violent and deadly with no end in sight. A nontraditional strategy being considered is to hire young men of fighting age to build a road. The hope is that providing employment will make the Taliban’s propaganda less appealing and that the connecting two modest population centers will further stimulate economic growth. New anti-war slogan—make roads not war.
  4. $4.58 Billion. This is the amount of the settlement Merck has agreed to to end all Vioxx claims. Sounds like a lot. I do wonder how much harmed individuals will receive after the lawyers get their share and the administrative costs eat up more. The amazing thing to me was one writer speculated that this “reasonable” settlement could help raise Merck’s share price since the uncertainty of the amount of the claims is gone. $4.58 billion as reasonable–what a concept. My bank account should be so reasonable.
  5. A No-Work Friday Afternoon. Come noon I went to downtown Chicago where Paul and I walked around, shot pool, saw a movie and had a nice dinner. Something about doing this on a work day made it even sweeter.

Time Machine

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I have issues of The Economist stacking up. Unless I am on planes I rarely find time to give them the attention they deserve. I recently picked up one from March 31.

The Economist usually has some articles for which the topics are timeless but much of the writing focuses on current events in the world, including the U.S. Scanning these articles was like using Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine and traveling to the recent past. These events took place approximately 5 months ago. Amazing how little progress has been made on some key domestic issues.

Some examples:

“Democrats are wrestling with the president over Iraq and much else”

“Mr. Gonzales is a worthy target….had he an ounce of integrety, he would have resigned long ago…”

“The war in Iraq is being pursued with “an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam”

There is also mention of the controvesies over the domestic surveillence policy and GITMO.

Some progress has been made since March. France elected a president, Iran freed the Britsh sailors it captured and David Hicks no longer resides at GITMO.

I would say less progress has been made than more.

With several issues remaining to be read, the WAYBAC machine will be in use for quite some time.