Apr 28, 2008

Black On Black Crime

No doubt we're all thinking the same thing. Why is Rev. Wright undermining, even destroying Barack Obama's candidacy? Above all, out of pride, I'm thinking, out of some gross negligence of spirit, out of a childish ill will, out of the dark habit of rage perhaps. Maybe, it's as simple as that.

but is it racist to suggest that this is a pattern among African Americans? Look at black on black crime in American ghettos. Or is this a phenomenon of the poor? And yet what other ethnic groups so intent upon denying their own? And Wright is not poor. To hear Vaughn Williams talking today on the Sean Hannity show, and you might wonder why Williams would be on such a show, but there he was talking about how Wright was torpedoing Obama's campaign and how there was something sinister in it all.

It's a mystery for pundits. And as you explore it you can make a perfectly good argument that maybe America in general has this strain of self-destruction, that transcends Rev. Wright and black on black crime. After all, what is George Bush if not proof of American on American crime, if not a proof that twice Americans would vote for someone so unlike them in many ways and yet a projection of all of America's worst personal traits. And who would so unwittingly destroy his own country....

In the end, you could say that this election is a test of America's soul. Are we able, are we willing, to see through the smoke and mirrors of our own fear and brittleness and get this man, with all his faults, to the office? Have we got it in us to give this man his dream, his potential, the parts of him that represent the best of us all? Are we willing and what will make us willing? What exactly is the courage required here?

Apr 14, 2008

Obama And Those "Bitter" People In the Middle

It's an interesting question. Do people in the Heartland really believe in their religions and the need to own guns and the danger of gays and immigrants? Is this really th culture, or are they lead to these beliefs out of bitterness from history, from the fear they are no longer needed economically, and so now are forgotten? What are the core values of these people who fight the wars, play guard and center on the football team and live with only the most modest expectations?

I once went to a small town in western Ohio where the Philipps 19-inch-TV factory was being relocated to Mexico. This was in the early days of NAFTA. I went with my wife and her mother for a drive. We passed through the town. There were maybe three stop lights. We had lunch at a rundown diner. I was thinking of writing a story about it at the time. I took notes but I've since lost them. No one wanted the story; it was not entertaining. All the editors had heard that story.

As I sit here now, and I usually have a good memory for these things, I don't remember a single detail of that restaurant or what we ate or what we spoke about. I don't remember a single face or expression. I can't even make something up. It's as though that memory is a black hole that sucks out the last of your imagination.

My wife insists that her mother only believed in Catholicism because there was nothing else, no other hope. No other chance for grace. When she died we went to her funeral. There was a 21 gun salute. It was so cold the old soldiers could hardly reload their guns. The wind was blowing hard. They must have used blow torches to dig up the ground. We stood in a tent. Everything and everyone was old. The death was expected. Afterwards, there was a wake. People seemed happy enough. But you got the sense that life's rhythms are so strict, so relentless that any 'bitterness', a gun or a cross or being able to hate someone on the news is all more entertainment, more a sensation, than a conviction.

Apr 11, 2008

grenade thrown at Rwanda's genocide museum (April 11)

"A man walked up to the museum and threw a grenade at the policemen on guard. It killed one of them instantly," said police spokesman Marcel Higiro in Kigali. "Another was seriously injured and has been hospitalised."

"It must be one of those extremist fellows still harbouring the genocide ideology," Higiro said.

Rwanda is in the fifth day of an official week of mourning that follows the 14th anniversary of the start of 100 days in which Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Some Hutus complain that the mourning period, during which all bars and other recreational facilities are shut down, enforces a perception of collective guilt against their ethnic group.

According to a bystander, the attacker ran into the neighborhood, stole a bicycle, and sped away. The bystander told police he thought he knew the man. "Oh yes, I think I know him. He's the brother of someone I used to know. They are Hutus. If it's him, you'll see he's missing an arm and a leg. The left leg. He was given (prostheses) but they are very uncomfortable to wear. Your skin itches terribly. I have the same problem." He showed where the skin on his arm had become hardened into an ugly scab from his own wooden arm.

"It makes you do crazy things," he added. "But you should see his wife. She has no arms or legs either. Just an upper body. Very ugly. Also, his children are, what do you say, 'incomplete'. We are all 'incomplete here'. Maybe this is why he did it."

"But don't worry, we'll catch him," said the bystander. "We'll cut him into pieces of stew. We never forget. But I don't think this was an attack on the museum, more likely the man just needs a job. Kill a policeman and he will need to be replaced. And this is not a bad job standing in front of the museum. Many dignitaries come here. They give money, they look at you, what do you say, as though you are a poor idea, but it was a good try, like you are someone who can eat pity. Well, many do. Some people are growing fat on pity while the rest of us starve."

Apr 1, 2008

Getting In

From time to time I walk up to the Polo fields to walk around the track. Sometimes,I imagine I'm Donald Crowhurst circling off the coast of the Argentine while the rest of the race goes on.

Once in a while, I see Emory, a friend I worked with 15 years ago. We keep in touch and occasionally have lunch. He's a journalist and has written several books. We always end up talking about our kids and lately of course there's been the whole matter of getting in.... Getting into one of the city's top private high schools, generally considered to be University, Lick and Urban. For weeks we'd been talking about the process and how unfair it was and how much stress there was. What we didn't say was how much this getting in had become a measure of ourselves and how we saw each other.

He was huffing and puffing around by the old stables when he saw me. He's the consummate jogger. He stopped, came over and we had a big shaking of the hands. Shaking and pleasantries and what's going on and how's work and 'the question' hung in the air. Finally, he couldn't resist.

"Well," he began with a huge smile. "Justin got into Lick."

"That's great," I said, trying my very best to sound enthusiastic. It was entirely unexpected. He'd told me all along they thought there was no chance.

"Yea, we didn't know how it was gonna turn out. His test scores were on the borderline..."

"I know what you mean."

"But we got in and now now that's over at least."

The finality hung in the hair. That he would say "we got in" is a slip of the tongue you only notice if YOU haven't gotten in.

"How'd your boy do?" he asked, still with a silly smile, proud and embarrassed at the same time, as though to say, "Beat that hand."

"He got wait-listed at Lick, but in the end he didn't get in," I said, and didn't relate what effort had been made, how much we had let it come to mean.

Emory looked concerned. "That's too bad," he said.

Frankly, I don't know what was more embarassing, getting the rejection or having to tell Emory. He went on reciting still again all the things they'd done to get Justin in, how they'd nearly tutored him to death, and persuaded him to write an essay about the weekend he spent with an uncle in Oregon, one of those events that parents think of, not children; and the 15 minutes the boy spent that weekend watching a Habitat for Humanity house being built and how, "and I'm only telling you," Emory had said, how the 15 minutes eventually became a 20-hour weekend, "you know what I mean," and before they knew it the essay detailed how the boy had nearly fallen off the roof of that house in his attempt to help some people from the "bad" part of Portland build their own home.

"That's great," I said. "That is."

He nodded and went on about how they'd turned off the TV every night, Justin himself, had made the commitment to turn it off. "What a guy, huh? And he never thought he'd get in, because what is it? 1 in 7? Like getting into the Ivy League isn't it?"

It sure is, I said.

"And when you think they're just 13. It's ridiculous."


"Actually," he said, "it really doesn't matter where they to school. Where you're going is perfectly good."

Yes, 'perfectly good', I said.