Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A bitter divorce

The thing about being married, or being part of a couple that I imagine is most difficult is that whenever you have two individual schools of thought, perspectives or ideologies, there exists the potential for argument. The problem is in the math, when you have two people with differing opinions one or both must yield in order to move forward.

In a loving relationship, this is possible. Love allows pride, ego and a need for power to take a step back. Compromise is attainable because each person trusts and respects the other. Each person understands that yielding is not a sign of weakness. Each person understands that yielding does not equate to being weak and because they are both working toward the same goal, even when they stand opposed, they work together until they find a way through.

Last night, I watched the final State of the Union Address to be made by President Bush and, as I often am when watching our government in inaction, I was struck by how foolish it is for us to continue along in a two party system. The quarrelling couple that is Democrat and Republican will never work. There is no trust between them, there is no respect. To yield is to be weak, regardless of the issue. There isn’t even a common goal, unless gaining dominion or keeping dominion can be considered such. There is no love, that’s for certain, not for the country or her people.

The selfishness of each party is evidenced continually by anyone who pays attention to politics. It’s party first, people later. It’s so simple for a person of liberal mind to blame all the evils of the world on conservative thinking; likewise, it’s easy for a conservative to find fault in any liberal philosophy. Sadly, we the people are content to pick sides and point fingers instead of understanding that each viewpoint serves a purpose in finding a balance that works.

It must seem odd to outsiders, how a government based on a system of checks and balances, the triangle of power, can tolerate a two party system as well. Black or white, this or that, yes or no, these are ideas in such contrast with the spirit of America that it’s truly staggering, yet we make no strides toward making change. It can easily be argued that our country has run successfully under a two party system for a long time now and will again, but this is a lie of laziness. It is easier to blame than to build.

Once upon a time, there was a union between the political parties in our country, while their views and opinions have always been in stark contrast, their priority had always been the people. There was love; love of country and it’s citizens, in solutions and compromise and love of progress. It would be naïve to say that the parties have always been friendly, have always worked together, have always played fairly. Knowing our history is to know that this is not true. But there was a time when our elected were people we believed in, people who, even in their greatest opposition, were respectful of the other’s love for this country and her people.

The marriage of Democrats and Republicans is over. They squabble over their children now, each certain they know what’s best for us, rarely bothering to ask us our thoughts though. Each is so bitter, so cold, that they are ruled not by common sense, by compassion or by love, but by hostility and the eternal drive to outdo the other, the need to see the other miserable. Each has lost sight of what’s important in their efforts to spite the other.

And we will suffer the consequences until we stand together as their equal, a child no longer, steeled with a mission to force balance and compromise on an old couple who no longer feel any love and are no longer willing to try.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm Dreaming, of a juicy....Turkey!

I saw a commercial, as I was getting dressed this morning, that was an advertisement for the Turkey Tourism Bureau. It showed a bunch of very colorful, very majestic scenes and made Turkey look like a very appealing place to visit. At the end of the commercial, the tagline, “Allow yourself to…DREAM OF TURKEY,” appeared on the screen.

I found this tagline unnecessarily vague in it’s instruction because the truth of the matter is that, on many occasions, I have dreamt of Turkey. However, this typically happens just before and after Thanksgiving and my dreams also tend to involve stuffing, which, truth be told, I enjoy more than I do turkey.

I don’t think I’m alone in my turkey dreams. However, I’m not sure many people actually dream about the country Turkey. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Turkey the country, just that, as far as dreams go, turkey the sandwich seems more attainable and filling.

There is a very good chance that, tonight, I will in fact dream of turkey now, but sadly, not the way the makers of this commercial have intended I should. Istanbul will not feature prominently in this dream, but a side of cranberry sauce may.

I feel bad for the people who made this commercial because I’m sure they sat around in a room and debated a lot of great ideas and slogans for their tourism campaign and spent lots of money making a beautiful commercial full of imagery and wonder, that instead of inspiring people to come take a vacation in Turkey the country are, in reality, just inspiring people to have turkey sandwiches for lunch today and make turkey dinners this week.

I wish I had been present when they had their meeting because I would have made a few really good suggestions. First, I think they should have given some serious thought to changing the name of their country to Stuffing. Don’t get me wrong, turkey is good, but the stuffing is really the best part of Thanksgiving Day meals. In case they didn’t like that idea though, as some people are sensitive about changing the names of their countries and such, I would have focused the tourism campaign on how good the turkey is in Turkey.

Turkey the meat, seems like a fairly easy image to connect to Turkey the country. I’m confident that even a bad advertising firm could have nailed that one. Got Turkey? Gobble Gobble! You bring the cranberries, we’ve got the Turkey! I mean, this is child’s play! Think of how many people visit Italy every year for the food. I think if Turkey really embraced it’s name and make turkey a priority, people would flock there in hungry anticipation of nightly Thanksgiving feasts! Now that, would make me dream of Turkey!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Forgotten Dreams

Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: - 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

-Martin Luther King Jr., Speech at Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963

I think one of the saddest things about the history of the United States is that no one picked up the mantle after Dr. King’s death. Actually, that’s an inaccurate statement, the sad thing isn’t that no picked up the mantle, it’s that the vacuum created by his death was filled and plugged by opportunistic men who cared more for their own fame than they did the dream.

I ask you this, how have any of Dr. King’s successors furthered his dream? What palpable way has any of the parade of clowns taken his dream of unity and fulfilled it? There are men, of course, who see themselves as successors and fulfillers of the dream. They come to mind easily and are rarely regarded with anything but contempt by middle aged white men like myself. The unity and brotherhood these pretenders speak of does not involve me, as Dr. King’s vision did.

These men, who will sadly be written into history, by people too fearful not to do so, as Dr. King’s successors, are in reality, nothing more than ambulance chasing opportunists, who clamor and shout for the fame Dr. King once had, less the furthering of his real ideas and agendas.

I defy anyone to tell me that Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, the good reverend’s, have ever done anything in the name of unification of the races. Where there is a perceived injustice to any minority with the promise of televised coverage, they will stand tall for all to see. Pillars against intolerance and injustice, they speak with forked tongue eloquence to right the wrongs perpetrated upon them by a race of people who will always look to oppress and deny them their due. Other than being self appointed guardians against such acts, many of which are spun deliberately to bring race into equations in which it was not a variable to begin with, what have these men done to further the cause?

I don’t mean to say that Dr. King himself didn’t stand up against injustice or that doing so is not a worthwhile pursuit when it is pure. I concede with vigor the necessity of a strong voice standing against injustice, but there was so very much more to the dream than that alone. And that is the part of the dream that is rudderless and adrift.

Cruelty, intolerance, injustice, ignorance and hate will not be defeated through show of force, but rather through a show of unity and love. At the risk of sounding obtuse, where is the love?

The furthering of Dr. King’s true dream is carried out, not by those who have stood directly on his shoulders but only shouted at the rain, but by people who have stood tall as examples that there are no differences that separate us save for those in our minds.

Tonight’s newscasts will, of course, feature the usual suspects who will praise his name and his work and promise the good Lord above that they will do their best to carry on in his name, but I can’t help but wonder if he will be looking down upon them with tears in his eyes for opportunities lost? After all, it was Dr. King himself to said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Butcher & The Surgeon

I’m a bit on edge as I write this because I’m afraid that if Poppa Bear George Halas has any pull whatsoever with God he may very well strike me down with lightning for blasphemy to Beardom. The fact of the matter is though, that I just can’t help but root for Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers as this year’s NFL Playoffs roll on.

Now let me backtrack and tell you that I hate, with a fiery passion all things Packers. I hate their cheese and green uniforms. I hate their obnoxious sausage eating fans. I hate their frozen tundra and their cheese wedge hats. I’m a Bears fan dammit, we’re bred to hate the Packers. But my beloved Bears spent the entire season choking on their own pompousness and delusions of grandeur, so I have to put that aside for now.

And so, in putting it aside, I watched Saturday’s game between the Packers and Seahawks fully intending to root for Seattle and watch the Packers fall! A funny thing happened on the way to that goal though. I saw on old gunslinger of a quarterback, throwing snowballs and underhanded passes at teammates. I saw someone really and truly having fun playing the game. I have to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone have that much fun playing a professional sport.

You can argue that the in vogue receiver of the moment and his crazy touchdown dance is having fun, but I’ve always considered that, in addition to poor sportsmanship, to be self indulgent and boastful—not in the name of having fun. This was a guy who may be working his way through a season for the last time or two, letting it all hang out and having a blast doing what he loves. It’s hard not to respect and enjoy watching that pursuit.

As a Bears fan, I’ve always hated Brett Favre, it goes along with my hatred of all things Packers, but, as many fellow Bears fans will grudgingly admit, we also respect Favre. He’s a damn good quarterback and a damn good leader and while we may not like him and his Chunky Soup commercials, we do respect him for his abilities.

And that brings me back to this weekend and watching this old school cowboy of a football player and the way he infected a team with a big time case of the fun. In contrast I watch the New England Patriots and their clinical precision. I see a grumpy coach and a personality-free team of zombie-like players with a win only mentality and while I can appreciate that and the results it’s garnering, I can’t root for it. I can’t cheer for a scalpel laden surgeon against a happy go lucky butcher.

The butcher is the everyman. We understand him. We can remember back to cold winter days, on our own fields of dreams, covered in snow and mud when we drew up plays in kid filled huddles that involved everyone throwing a snowball at their defender before running post patters to the end zone (read: the big crooked tree).

What is sport if not a reason to remember? And while he may wear a uniform with goofy, ugly colors. While his fan base may think a cheese wedge is appropriate headwear and his home field have a stupid nickname, while he may be everything that every Packer fan feels engenders what it is to be a Packer and while they may hold that over our heads for all of my life, I just cannot bring myself to root against this guy. Not now, not this week, or next or the week after.

Forgive me Iron Mike. Forgive me Sweetness. Forgive me Papa Bear. I’m rooting for the goddamn Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl. Queue the flying pigs.

Monday, January 7, 2008

In the pudding?

Last night, I watched Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes defending himself against allegations that he ever took steroids or was injected with HGH (Human Growth Hormone). I, for one, believed him. Maybe that’s naïve of me. Maybe I’m a fool for not believing that every single player in professional sports today is using HGH, which is undetectable.

Perhaps I’m a romantic, but I suppose I’d like to cling to the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty for just a while longer. It seems to me that as a society, we tend to believe what the media sells and that the media sells controversy because we all love a scandal don’t we?

Last night he looked Mike Wallace in the eye, looked the sports world in the eye and said that he never took steroids or HGH. He said that his accuser, who is a criminal, was flat out lying about his involvement and use of those drugs, and while that’s not enough, for me at least, it will keep me from making a judgment against him until a time when some kind of proof can be established.

Proof. It’s funny how it’s become irrelevant. It’s amazing how proof has become only the final step, the closure, the I told you so spark, that comes at the end of an accusation. It is no longer necessary for an accusation itself to be made and I worry for a society where proof is such an unnecessary commodity in the conviction of one and other.

I look to the case of Drew Peterson, who has been convicted in the public eye of killing his wife Stacy. Everyone knows he’s guilty. They just don’t have the evidence. I’ll admit, the media has me convinced as well. The police seem to know he did it, but cannot prove so. That’s enough for the media, hungry for a story. He’s not a likable man. His previous wife died under curious circumstances. He just comes off as the kind of guy who could kill his wife. He’s not a media darling. He doesn’t show sympathy or sadness the way we want and expect him to show it.

Guilty. He must be guilty. He doesn’t act the way I would act. He’s guilty.

The truth is, he probably is guilty, but I’ll tell you one thing. I would love for Stacy Peterson to show up on a beach in Cancun with a cabana boy named Carlos. I’d love to see that happen.

You see, the police knowing that someone is guilty isn’t enough. They have to prove it. Roger Clemens being accused of taking steroids isn’t enough. Someone has to prove it and not only prove it, but do so beyond reasonable doubt, before it’s so. That’s the system we’ve set up. That’s what keeps us from repeating infamous parts of our history such as the Salem Witch Trials.

Of course being convicted in a court of law and sent to jail is a horrible thing, but it’s just. Being convicted in the media and shunned by society, not being able to get a job, having your neighbors, maybe even your family treat you like someone who has committed a terrible crime is a horrible sentence for someone who’s never been proven guilty to have to suffer.

To this day we all walk around with a smirk, we nod and wink when we think back to the OJ Simpson trial. We all know that he’s guilty. Take a step back from what you know though. Now imagine that all kinds of circumstance actually did conspire against him. Imagine, no matter how hard it is to do so, that all media proof to the contrary, that he really was and is innocent of the murder of his wife.

Think of the life he’s had to live since then. Think of the ridicule. Think of the torment. Imagine having to endure what he’s had to endure, if you were innocent and wrongly accused. What a horrible way to have to live.

The fact of the matter is that in our court system, we are innocent until proven guilty. Our accusers do have to provide evidence, proof of our guilt and that proof must be believable beyond reasonable doubt. There is a chance for fair treatment. There is a chance for justice. It’s far from perfect, this system of ours, it’s as flawed as can be. Innocent people are convicted all of the time. Guilty people go free. But if we don’t hold our standards to what can or cannot be proven, what does that say of us?

It’s amazing how very little proof we need to make our minds up, especially where celebrities or famous cases are involved. We love to see the mighty fall as much as we love an underdog overcoming overwhelming odds to succeed. I understand the latter, but not the former.

What a sadistic act it is, building a pedestal, setting someone upon it and then laughing as they fall, all without the burden of proof. All, for no other reason than we love a juicy story. We love the drama. We love the excitement.

Truth is dead and proof is inconsequential. And so we go to church, to learn to judge not, lest we be judged, and somehow, aren’t even blinded by our own hypocrisy.