Obama’s Speech to the School Kids- What I learned on the way to the end of my fears

At Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, they gave President Obama a standing ovation when they saw him enter on the large television screens. Booker T. is my daughter’s alma mater- it’s the performing arts high school. It’s Norah Jone’s alma mater, too. And something she is proud of, also.

So, when I saw the kids there jumping to their feet as the President appeared on-screen, I knew that the people to whom the president was aiming this speech were going to hear it. And as was evident from their comments, they heard it loudly and clearly in a way even most of us adult supporters of the president could not have heard it.

“He was speaking to me,” one small 9th grade boy said.

“He makes me want to get all As this year,” said another.

Many adults, especially- it appears- those of the Caucasian persuasion, were fearful of what the president would inculcate their children with today. I heard them breathing hard and sweating into the cameras pointed toward them as they screamed that the president had no right to tell their children what to think. Maybe they were afraid he would reveal the secret message of the fist-bump to curious fifth graders, or describe the joys of his parent’s interracial sex to shy high schoolers. Given the level of anger and suspicion many of these parents displayed, it is hard to even guess at what kind of jive they were afraid the president would brainwash their un-brainwashed children with.

And, despite the fact that even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich endorsed the content of Obama’s speech, we know that in today’s America the facts don’t matter nearly as much as what a person wants to believe. If you want to believe Obama is a Muslim, there’s nothing anyone can say, show, or demonstrate that will dissuade you from that belief. In America today, among a certain crowd of fellow believers, you will even be applauded for hanging on to a belief despite the Truth that lies dying in the ditch nearby.

And there are still people waiting for the release of Michelle’s “Whitey” tape and for the Belgian Congo birth certificate of the president. And they’ll wait and they’ll wait because they KNOW they’re right and it doesn’t matter that that astronomy reveals the sun to be the center of the solar system, you silly fools, you can see that the sun rises and sets around the Earth, can’t you?

So here’s what I’ve learned today: All of that noise was preceding the speech was irrelevant. A whole lot of parents kept a whole lot of children out of school and away from the Internet and television today because they were afraid of something that bore no fearful meaning whatsover- liminally, subliminally, or otherwise. They were people being afraid, and that’s all. They would probably call it being protective, but they could have been protective at home, with some intelligent conversation around the dinner table tonight. They could have introduced their children to genuine critical thinking. I assume most of them are capable of that.

Since the noise was irrelevant, I should consider it so as well. AND SO SHOULD THE PRESIDENT! My argument with the president so far, indeed, my disappointment with the president so far is that he is spending too much time trying to be friends with people who don’t like him, did not and will never support him, and whose candidate in the last election was convincingly defeated.

President Obama: those of us who voted for you voted for change, significant change to happen. We wanted our country out of the twin sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan that we were lied into. We want war criminals tried, if that is what a grand jury deems them to be. We want sexual preference among adults to not be a factor at all in a person’s enjoyment of their full civil rights. Those are the changes we voted for above and beyond the need this country had for a president who was smart and who didn’t look like every president before and who was running with a vice-presidential candidate who didn’t scare the living socks off of us as we imagined him possibly becoming president. That’s what we voted for, Obama, not how many friends you could make among the people who had gotten us into the military and economic quagmire we are in now.

So, while many many, many of my friends are Republican, most of whom I would take a bullet for (and they know it), I must tell them that I will not listen to their political views with any more fear. Theirr politics are coming to an end. The world can’t be the way it was in the 50’s; they’ve spent us into a hell hole of unimaginable depth, and while they can try to blame the other party for that, the statistics of Reagan, Bush, and Bush tell another story. Unfortunately, I voted right there beside them until 2006, when I saw the light. It’s not a bright light- Pelosi and Reid are both standing in it after all- but it is a whole lot brighter than the dim fluorescents pirated out of Enron’s headquarters.

And I know this: that the loudest among you old-timers- those who fussed the most about Obama’s Svengali grip on the minds of school kids, some you made asses of yourselves. And your kids saw you doing it. And while they no doubt still love you, they have seen you be wrong, over-reactive, maybe even goofy. Statistics show that that has happened a lot recently. During the 80s and 90s you preached and preached and preached about the takeover of schools and government by those with a gay agenda. You made bogeymen out of young men dying of AIDS so that you wouldn’t have to confront the sympathetic response you deeply felt toward them. (We all know it is easier to fear and hate than it is to give in to love, especially if that love- holy cow!- might be misconstrued as fag love!).

The point is, you painted the homosexual community into something it wasn’t. At all. Your kids went to college, got jobs, and moved into apartments near and with these men and women. They even became friends with them! They found out that you had been wrong about them, and that some of you and some of your preachers had been lying about them to you. They even found out that there seems to be a direct relationship between the loud rantings of an anti-gay protester and his desire to passionately kiss the object of his fury!

So you lost more young people in your loud and silly protests over this speech today.

Good.

And knowing those things, I won’t be so upset the next time. Your numbers are decreasing even as the spittle from your radio and television leaders is increasing. Even as the crazed rantings of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity grow louder, more and more young people are hearing them, and the demographic slice of their advertising pie grows older by the day.

(Thank you again, young people of Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas. I’m giving you my own private standing ovation right now!)

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I’m almost 60..

I’ll be 60 this year. That’s a sentence that leaves me aghast and amuses me at the same time. Sometimes I will think for a moment that it would be fun to still have more years in front of me than behind me. But then I remind myself of the people I have- because of my age- been privileged to share this planet with. People like the following whose pictures I just happened onto at oliverwillis.com, a site worth perusing.

Wow! Just look. We know the names of some of these people and not others. But all of these men and women are reminders of what real heroism looks like. Real heroism is about taking action, when retreat would be both excusable and safer. Real heroism happens in silence and isolation, in the presence of real enemies. Real heroism is about focusing not on what you can see in front of you, but what you hope others will be able to see, someday.

These men and women are among my heroes; and I am thankful that I was in this place and in this country at the same time they were. Theirs was an extraordinary humanity and their willingness to share it has made the rest of us, better.

Sully Sullenberger, Katie Couric, the U.S.A: that was the week that was..

“That Was the Week That Was” was an NBC satirical newsmagazine which was broadcast in 1964-65. The chorus of show’s theme song:

That was the week that was, it’s over let it go.                                                    Oh what a week that was,                                                                                    That was the week that was!

Now, insert the word “Country” where the word “Week” was. That’s what I’m talking about, and Sully and Katie are part of it. And Obama’s doomed economic plan, the Republican’s doomed-to-hell economic plan, the suburbs, GM, Thomas Kincaid “paintings”, and many churches, among many other iconic and traditional things and ways of life in America.   That was the country that was.      

Hang with me here; it will all come together a few paragraphs from now.

1. This may seem like it has nothing to with anything here, but it does in a huge way, and that’s why I list it first:

Sully Sullenberger, pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, and the man who successfully landed a disabled jet on the Hudson River last month, is NOT a hero. He IS one heck of a pilot- seasoned, calm, utterly professional, highly skilled, and a real asset to his profession, his race, his family, his community, and his nation. The other 154 passengers on Flight 1549, and their families, love him very much. But he is not a hero. He was doing the job he had trained for and practiced and he did it very, very well. (I’m convinced, after hearing Sullenberger speak several times, that he would agree with everything I’ve just said.)

But media types began the “hero” labeling  immediately, with hopes that hero worship at the glass and plastic home altars would follow. And we, the media sheep, believe our shepherds, and begin genuflecting. Katie bragged at some dinner last night about how she “won” Sully’s first network interview from the other networks.

Two sub-points here, call them 1a and 1b. Ok, 1a: Television stories need exclamation points at the end of as many sentences as possible! They need heroes, not boringly competent people. Just as they need berserk monkeys, octo-moms, and Kim Jong-il. Television demands words writ simply and large and images drawn in bright, shiny colors. They need heroes  and more of them, so they manufacture them by finding individuals who are extremely competent at their jobs, or who play football well, or who are under six years old but know how to dial 9-1-1 when necessary, or who are a dog that barks and alerts firemen to an unconscious child, or who are a cop and gets shot. The media needs these people because I guess we (the American consumer) need them, too. People who watch X-treme Games, or Jackass, or Real Time Videos of Real People Being Injured are beyond staying tuned in through the commercials for a report on anything resembling normalcy. Who wants to see great golf tee shots when they can see a wrestler fall heroically from a high-lift into the turnbuckles, to his death?

1b. Katie, nobody outside an extremely small circle of network insiders gives a rat’s rear about who got the interview first, when, or ever. Nobody except the fellow word-spitting clowns on the local news desk remember, care, or wanted to know in the first place who “broke” a particular  news item. It, like 99.9% of everything, doesn’t matter!  It matters only when you’re part of a culture that believes everything must be won, or lost; that believes for everything that goes wrong or merely not right, there is someone/something to blame; and that believes winning (whatever the game is) is all that ultimately counts.

2. Just as we need bigger-than-life heroes so we may sate our need to vicariously tickle our egos, we have also- being good Americans- sought for too long, that which is too large and too much. For two decades, the suburbs have been growing absurdly fast, filling with homeowners mesmerized by the 300 cubic feet of empty overhead space in the dramatic entryways of crazily huge homes sitting on zero-lot lines, available for nothing down and a first year ARM of only 2%! We have bought cars that are too large, pets that are too expensive, clothes that are too quickly out of fashion, computers that are too old at six months, too pricey college educations that are no longer worth a million extra dollars over a lifetime (as high school guidance once mouthed without critical thinking), too expensive tickets to too many sporting events, concerts, and too many meals out because we’re too busy to stay home and cook, and now the whole too-high hill of too-high hopes is falling. In avalanche fashion.

Jenga! Jenga! Jenga! We’ve been playing a game of pile-’em-as-high-as-you-can, and while there are lots of criminals, we are all guilty. The pile had to fall. The money I made with IPOs in the 1990s- money made without my doing a single thing!- was part of the fall. The credit I’ve used to buy things I didn’t really need, or didn’t really need to replace- that was part of the fall, too. Sure it’s easy to shout red-faced and angry at the Enron parasites and the human cancer Madoff, but I in my tiny way added to the mess of Jenga tiles now covering the table and the floor, spilling out the front door, and out onto the street. I helped make the mess and you did, too, and there is one more huge mistake we can make together, if we let the traditional people-with-answers come up with the answers we desperately need; namely, this:

We can pick up the pieces and start trying to build them back up again, just like they were. 

In normal life situations, cleaning up the mess and starting over would be the right thing to do- in some cases, perhaps even the heroic thing to do! But normalcy as we knew it, as we may soon be pining for it, as we may demand it from a selfish, narrow, screw you standpoint, normalcy is gone for the rest of our lives. (That’s a prophetic statement on my part- a statement born of feelings, guesses, and some basic understandings of human behavior and spirituality; it is not a statement born of formal economic training or knowledge. It’s a statement born of eyes wide open, rather than one formed with mind tight shut.)

I’m afraid the stimulus package has been written and fueled by too many people who believe we can make the country that was into the country that is, again. Even those who oppose the stimulus package are opposing it with a set of tools fashioned with Americo-centric blueprints drawn by social Darwinists who were sitting on natural resources that would never run out, with a great labor supply of people who would always be happy with what they were paid,  and who considered the whole world to be an American franchise.

That was the country that was, remember that. It’s over- let it go! It was bound to fall, and has. We- literally- can spend the rest of our lives bemoaning, regretting, blaming, and finally dying unhappily. Or we can begin to rebuild, like the pioneers whose blood flows in all of us who are Americans. It can be similar to what was, and probably must be. But it cannot be the same. We cannot merely build a new economic Petri dish in which new Enron and Madoff bacterial slime might grow.

Oh, what a country that was…!

(I’ve got some ideas, incidentally, which I’ll write about here in the next day or two. Those ideas, your ideas, our ideas, are what we must start discussing, sharing, modifying, and bringing into being..we must plant seeds of trees we will never eat the the fruit of ! Some of us may even have the opportunity to be real heroes in doing so [the unheralded, self-sacrificing kind]. Go ahead, break that news!)

Goodbye, George W. Bush

On Tuesday, Barack Obama will become our 44th president of the United States. At the same time that is happening, George W. Bush will be on his way to his pretend ranch in Crawford or to his new cul-de-sac digs in Preston Hollow, in Dallas. I really don’t care where he is going; I am simply relieved that he will be gone.

Obama will swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Preamble to that document is always worth reviewing:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is also a worthwhile thing to remember that when that Preamble was written, persons of African descent were not included in the phrase “we the people.” But that’s another day’s topic. Today, I want to say goodbye to the 43rd President, and urge the 44th President to uphold and and defend the Constitution in all ways– among them, the investigation and possible prosecution of his immediate predecessors for falsely and knowingly leading us into a war that has cost 5000 American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.

Scroll down the pages of this blog and you’ll see that I’ve changed my mind on that subject; it was not long ago that I simply hoped Mr. Bush would fade away. But when he spoke, at his final press conference earlier in the week, of one his greatest regrets being the inability of Allied forces to find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, I was pushed- hard- from the “compassionate” attitude I had taken toward him. 

His greatest regret; the thing which he regrets the most about his presidency…is that his predication for the war was not vindicated. Forget the thousands of new terrorists which have been ideologically birthed over the last six years; forget the suffering of American, English, Canadian, and Iraqui families who have lost so many sons and daughters while  our armies desperately sought phantom evidence that would- for once and for all- prove Bush was right about at least that one thing; forget about “Brownie” and the administration’s “dress for success” shirtsleeve response to Katrina’s meteorological rape of the Gulf Coast; forget the $12 billion per month which has been landing in the bottomless coffers of everyone with a round round of ammo to sell the federal government, or the wiping out of pensions because Wall Street traders came up with formulas the SEC couldn’t make sense of let alone a commander in chief who seemed to parade with pride his inability to speak (which, in his case, is a pretty good indicator of his inability to think); forget all those things. BECAUSE WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT IS THAT THERE WERE NO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION TO BE FOUND!

I know that increasingly tiny band of Bush supporters and defenders continues to believe that history will be kind and that, in retrospect…whatever and yada, yada, who cares?

I’m done with Bush, on these digital pages anyway. I’ll join in cleaning up the mess that’s been left, although I’m not sure this mess can be entirely or ever cleaned up. We’re all going to be forced to try, however, if we want anything resembling the United States as it was, to be passed on to the generations to come, who will be paying for this mess.

Hello, Barack H. Obama..</

JFK, November 22 Again

Because it is almost November 22, still more “never seen before news footage” from Dallas, 1963, was being shown on PBS last night. It is a yearly media event as predictable as the “live reports” of people filing taxes at 11:55 p.m. on April 15 at the main post office on Interstate 30, or the footage of someone futilely trying to fry an egg on a sidewalk in Garland sometime in July on the first 100 degree day of the year.

Television people are just so predictable about some yearly events. Like expected liturgical moments in church, I guess there is comfort for some in the repetitions and rhythms of societal life. The trouble is, when it comes to reports on the assassination of President Kennedy, I’m as predictable as those producers.

moorman-thumb The black and white motorcade wends its way down Main Street, turns north toward Elm Street, then makes the short left in front of the School Book Depository, then yada, yada, yada.. So why in hell do I still watch to this point thinking it will somehow/ridiculously be different this year? Like every other American over 50 I know each moment of the next three days: from Jackie’s bloody dress at Dulles on Friday night to the snare drum cadence on Monday.

In subsequent years, conspiratorial niches were filled with Castro, Sam Giancana, the Carousel Club, David Ferrie, and a still unfolding vast cast of characters and widespread lists of places which have caused Walter Cronkite’s sonorous and also-predictable announcement to television-watching millions of the President’s death to change from a throat-clenching and yearly echo within our freshly fertilized imaginations to now-finally- after 45 years (my god, yes, 45 years!), a lulling and dulling vocal underline affirming, yet again, that nothing changed, nothing is different: JFK is dead.

We don’t know what might have been, and that inability to remember instead of surmise is what makes the memories of November 22 so discordant and troubling. Would the gaping wound of Vietnam have been torn across our country, and the world? Would the voices of King and Robert Kennedy have been able to be historically calming ones if a miscreant’s gunfire had not been shown to be so effective in wrenching history from its always-fragile course? And drugs? And 9-11? And Iraq? And, dammit, that’s why I turn the TV off or find a book to read because the “yada, yada” becomes “what if? what if” in a kaleidoscopic swirl of bloody, heart-breaking, question marks.

And, dammit again, that old news film still makes me cry a little, too: for people who shouldn’t have had to cry that day- people who I didn’t think were supposed to be able to cry: my algebra teacher, the Spanish instructor, the janitor, the bus driver, and –good heavens!- the principal of the school. Now, they’re all dead and I’m older than any of them were that day when I remember them hiding, or not, their tears.

It still feels so unrelentingly, deeply, and achingly wrong. Of course, it was. But I am surprised anew, on each of these past 44 anniversary dates, how intense some twinges of the pain still are.

A Letter to My Children (and Yours)

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” Barack Obama, Victory speech, 11/4/08

What Obama’s election means to each of us who voted for him is different, but within a shared context. We have all been participating witnesses to something far greater than the election of a new president, and each of our stories- what this election personally means to us- is important.

This two year long election process has changed many of us, and those changes have combined together and will continue to bind together in ways that will cause historians to one day mark this past year in particular as revolutionary.

(If you are one of those people so fortunate as to be frequently within range of my voice, you know I often engage in hyperbole to make a point. The word “revolutionary” in the above sentence, is not a hyperbolic statement. Just so you know.)

How this revolution will play out over time is as unknown as the future of the American Revolution was at its beginnings in 1776. That revolution, too, was undertaken in audacious, courageous but not specifically definable, hope. The colonists’ eventual victory over the British began a political, sociological, and economic process, one that continues, and which includes this revolution of 2008. The history of the War for Independence is important for us, as Americans, to know about and remember. And one of the great primary sources for written histories of that time is the personal correspondence of not only the Founding Fathers and Mothers of our country, but of the soldiers from both sides of the fight.

Those letters reveal the hopes, the dreams, the frustrations, the confusion, and the love of their writers toward those to whom they were writing. Taken together, those letters are a snapshot of a particular time in history, yes; but they also reveal human commonalities that transcend time. So, let’s jump to my point here: I think we should be writing letters to each other right now about the revolution we’ve been a part of. British or American; blue, red, or some lovely shade of purple- what we are thinking, feeling, hoping, or fearing as individuals is part of a larger context and that context is important . We all know this election has been unlike any election we’ve witnessed (don’t think that’s true? Check your emotions over the last few days. Compare them to what you felt in 2004, 1996, 1980, or 1972. See?), and there is historical importance in what we write down and enable others to know about us, and about our country, as we have experienced it.

Therefore, to my children..

Dear Joshua, Darcy, and Sarah:

Thank you for the things you did, each in your own ways using the resources you have, to make this election of Obama possible. You are part of a generation that was able to have hope and to have that hope realized. You have been part of a movement that reached its first important goal. You have done something that has far greater implications and meanings for others, than for yourselves- as lofty and high as your own ideals are.

My generation started out that way, but by the time we were your age, it seemed the whole world of politics and culture was Nixonian and white. One by one, with few exceptions, Baby Boomers turned their energies toward gross exaggerations of the very things they had at one time rebelled against. The generation that felt their hearts beat wildly with newly found passion when they heard JFK say, “Ask not what your country can do for you..”, and who listened to MLK Jr. speak, “I have a dream..”, and watched as RFK said “Some men dream dreams, and others say, ‘Why not?’ – that generation also had to hear the horrible silence that followed. And we filled that silence with illusions of happiness: drugs, debt, suburban sprawls, selfishness and all the attendant fears that accompany each of those false ideals.

From real hope for a better world we descended into “Me,Me,Me” politics, created false gods that looked and thought like us, elected superficial sound-bites to office, and lulled ourselves to a semblance of sleep with a Pandora’s box of pharmaceuticals, swelling bank accounts sucked from the national dirt and human hearts of Third World countries, and the conviction that our country was THE best, THE strongest, and the only country on earth that should not, could not, dare not be questioned about its God-given, wealth-confirming, pollution-belching, trinket-loving role in the world.

Somehow, somehow, though..somehow, in the midst of that self-absorption and between episodes of “Dallas”, “Charlie’s Angels”, and “Miami Vice”, my generation gave birth to yours. Generation X, Y, or whatever the media pundits try to reduce your names and ages to, you have not let the hope inherent in being an American dry up into an unrecognizable husk of veneer-thin words. You have gone to school with and worked with people of all colors, sexual persuasions, nationalities, and religions. And you saw them for who they really are- not as the categories your parents warned you against, nor as people who were separated by law and religion from you, but as humans, like yourselves.

Then, one of you rose high enough to ask, in a way that more and more people were able to hear, “Can we?”

And your answer spilled over into the hearts of many of your parents, because we remembered again what it was like to act out of love, rather than fear. We remembered that hope didn’t have to lie dormant under disappointment. We responded, because you responded first to the question, “Can we?” with a loud, put-your-money-and-time-where-your-mouth-is, “Yes! Yes we can!”

And- holy cow- we did.

Lead on. You’re doing a damn good job so far.

Love to you three especially, but also the millions and millions of others like you,

Daddy