Artists of our generations

I think every generation has a handful of artists they are lucky to have.

These are people who are writers, poets, musicians, painters, photographers – often they do more than one of these things, and well. Sometimes they are people we don't even know live next door to us, other times they are among the most vocal of their generation.

Federico Garcia Lorca was one of them. So was Kurt Vonnegut. I think Ralph Steadman qualifies as well. So does Salvador Dali.

I've been lucky to have known or known of James O'Brien for seven years now. His was the first art that made sense to me after September 11, 2001, and now when I need my head cleared, it's his art I tend to use as a helping hand.

I think time will show that he is one of the great artists of our generation, though he may be one of those people who doesn't get famous, in a sense, perhaps for another long time.

The world lost Garcia Lorca too soon; he was an unfortunate victim of his art and personality, in a place that wasn't ready for him. But those who paid attention got to be young and grow old with Vonnegut and Dali, and they're doing the same for Steadman. I believe we're going to get to do that with O'Brien.

He's blogging now, I'm happy to say.

Let him change your life a little.

Happinesses on a day off

• Sleeping in, which I actually sort of did.

• On the bus this morning, a teenage girl moved from her seat when an older woman who clearly needed one of the seats up front got on – with no prodding or hesitation.

• Acoustic Colin Hay on the stereo at the cafe.

• Moving to within one step of dumping my old clunker: all that's left is to actually get it to the dealership and drive off in my new car tomorrow morning.

• Hand-made greeting cards purchased at Eureka, one for great customer service and the other for a friend who skipped town prematurely.

• Lunch with Jill.

• Also, the day's only half over.

Update: • Going to see Bartolo Colon pitch tonight.

Where the road middles

If you want to drive down Enterprise Parkway in De Witt, NY, you have a choice: You turn off of Bridge Street in East Syracuse, or you turn onto a short connector road from Widewaters Parkway in De Witt.

These will get you to two different ends of Enterprise Parkway.

You cannot get from one end to the other while staying on Enterprise Parkway, if you are driving.

This tree is in the middle.

I like this tree, plain as it appears.

Lest you desire to simply drive around the tree, note that the concrete does not run around the tree, so you will first have to drive over three very large rocks that serve as a barrier, and then you'll have to cross the grass, while avoiding the picnic tables on one side and the wetlands on the other.

In the otherwise pedestrian-unfriendly office park in which I work, this tree is like the last union member, who will not leave the rally until someone not only brings out the ax, but uses it.

Plain as it appears, I like this tree.

So, I’m supposed to procreate like mad, or…?

By the year 2042, whites are projected to be an ethnic plurality in the U.S., rather than an ethnic majority, a new Census Bureau report predicts.

This is eight years sooner than previously predicted.

And this is news...why?

First off, the way this is being framed is that "whites will no longer be the majority," because 54% of people in the U.S. will self-identify as Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American, Pacific islander or other. Non-Hispanic whites will still be the largest ethnic group, they'll just come in at under 50% of the population.

I guess this is supposed to make me worried about increased diversity or something.

And worse, scream the reports, by the 2020 presidential election, more than half of the electorate will be non-white.

Heaven help us.

The Times article offers a little perspective, but it's all historic in nature. In 1492, when Columbus "discovered" this place where there were already a bunch of people living, 96% of the inhabitants were non-white. By 1900, that number was something more like 10%.

The non-white population jumped in the 1920s and 1930s. Want to know why? Jews and people of eastern European descent weren't considered white by the Census Bureau.

I guess that must have changed when we took over the media and the government, huh?

I don't really think I have to sit here and argue about how we shouldn't fear ethnic and religious minorities, strangers, foreigners, third-party candidates and other un-American people like vegetarians, lactose-intolerant people, those who are allergic to gluten, and (God help us!) people who drive compact cars (wow, I think I managed to cover everyone who either currently reads this blog, has read this blog, or is likely to read this blog in the future). So I won't.

The most disturbing thing about this being widely reported as important news is that we're currently in the middle of The Great Immigration Debate. We already have this fear that people are sneaking into this country to steal jobs from God-fearing white Americans (who are lining up to pick apples and wash dishes, I know), and that if we let our guard down for one second, someone will blow something up and the terrorists will win.

(We'll skip the fact that it was a couple of God-fearing white Americans who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma, because if we don't, the terrorists will win.)

Here's what I think will happen as the population starts to take on a more even ethnic distribution. I think that whites will finally start to notice that the people in power – at all levels of government, in the business world, among their associates at health clubs and country clubs – no longer look like the people they see when they go shopping, to the movies, to baseball games, and everywhere else.

Will we do anything with that realization? I'm not optimistic. But I am hopeful.

Why I’m watching the men’s 1500m track event – and why you should too

Joseph Lopepe "Lopez" Lomong will carry the U.S. flag at the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing Friday.

This is my favorite Olympics story. Ever. And I'm not alone.

Lomong is alive today because as a forced child soldier in Sudan, he put down his gun, and pretty much ran across the country until he found a priest.

After the long process that is finding foster parents in a safer country, Lomong was adopted by the Robert and Barbara Rogers, who live in the small town of Tully, N.Y., about 20 miles south of Syracuse.

He ran track and cross country for Tully High School, becoming as big a celebrity as an athlete in those sports becomes.

I hope there's some sort of journalism award out there for Maureen Sieh, who holds the title of Urban Affairs Editor at our local paper, The Post-Standard. She's been writing about Lomong for a while now, and she recently told the Rogers' story.

He was one of the "lost boys" featured in a documentary that first aired on PBS' "Point of View".

In July of 2007, he was granted U.S. citizenship, and he qualified for the men's 1500 meter in this year's Olympics.

About 500 people showed up for a fundraiser last night, during which participants ran a 3-mile relay, carrying a cardboard cutout of Lomong. The relay was anchored by his high school coach, Jim Paccia.

Paccia and his wife, along with the Rogerses, are going to Beijing to cheer on Lomong, and the fundraiser was to help the two couples offset their costs a bit.

The men's 1500m takes place August 15 in the morning. I know Central New York will be holding its collective breath.

Media Theory 101: Fear-mongering Monday

If you watch a lot of TV, you think crime in general is higher than it is, and violent crime in particular is many times higher than it actually is; you think your family secretly hates you, your friends are out to get you, and your co-workers talk behind your back; you think the air, the water, the plants, the city streets are all dangerous.

In fact, you're pretty sure that the only think you can safely do is continue to sit in front of the TV.

This, essentially, is George Gerbner's mean world hypothesis. It's based in a fair amount of fact, actually. Gerbner and his study team went out with a survey, asked people their level of use of various media (what they watch, read, or listen to, and for how long each day) and then basically quizzed them on statistics like crime and water toxicity and the like.

And, lo and behold, the less you go out into the world, the scarier a place you think it is. It's a vicious cycle, really, because it's hard to spend more time in your house while consuming less media. The windows only need so much washing, the woodwork only so much dusting.

This is a list of things I did on Monday that definitely could have killed me, but clearly did not.

Got out of bed, cooked breakfast, drove to work, drank water, drank coffee, sat in front of a computer screen, talked on a cell phone, drove home from work, ate lunch at a restaurant, walked nearly two miles into downtown, rode an elevator, drank iced tea, met strangers at a meeting, walked nearly two miles on the way back home, climbed stairs, breathed air indoors, breathed air outdoors, ate dinner, ate microwaved popcorn, read from a collection of hardcover fiction.

The world is definitely not so scary a place. Make sure you get outside before the frostbite settles in (just kidding. About the frostbite, I mean).

Race and the presidency


from PostSecret 3 Aug 2008

I'm not going to pretend to be uber-qualified to write about race, and I'm not going to go link-crazy here, but race is starting to come out as factor in the presidential race right now, and I feel the need to comment. I'm a white male who works in a mostly white office, so most of the racism I come across is in the media.

People told me during the primary season that they thought if Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee, which it appears he will be (and if he's not, he'll have a lot of explaining to do, since he's campaigning; same with John McCain, by the way – neither of these guys is official yet), people would vote for McCain just because of Obama's race.

Thing is, the people who would vote for president based on race would also vote for president based on gender. It would have been six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other on that count.

The latest polls are out, and guess what?

• People think race is going to be a factor
• Obama is leading McCain by about six points
• Add in Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, and Obama is up by 13 points (five points to Nader, two to Barr)

What does this say to me? Either:

(a) There's a bit of third-person effect going on here. That is, "race doesn't matter to me, but I bet it does to everyone else." Or,

(b) Race does matter, but it's not to whom you think. The people who want an old white guy in office aren't necessarily Republicans or even Conservatives. They don't care which old white guy they put in office, so long as it's an old white guy.

We knew that some McCain voters could defect to Barr. But did anybody honestly think Nader would be sucking votes from McCain?

What I do know about racism is this. If Obama gets elected, there will be extra pressure on him. If he has a lousy presidency, a large group of people who thought they were taking a "very open-minded risk" voting for him will cite it as an example that a black man can't run the country. And if he does well, there will be a group of people who will pat him on the head (proverbially, anyway) and say, "Good boy. You proved us wrong."

None of that makes me happy. It's just the way I see it.

Personally, I'm going to vote for the person this year I think will do the best job in the White House, whether it's one of the four men mentioned here, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, or one of the other dozens of candidates who will no doubt join the race between now and November.

What are you afraid of?

I'm reading Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear.

The book, which came out in 1999, has received lots of love from everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Michael Moore.

The book's subtitle is "Why American's are afraid of the wrong things."

To tell the truth, I'm more skimming it, which is not really my style when it comes to non-fiction. I tend to absorb.

I'll have a more comprehensive review when I finish it, but it occurred to me yesterday that I had walked nearly two miles downtown and then back home again with my face in this tome, alone, through Syracuse's North Side on the way and through a deserted Franklin Square on the way home. This route is not uncommon for me.

Perhaps the media nerd in me is what makes me part of the target audience; I clearly am not one of those members of the population who's worried that if I walk by lofts I'm more and more likely to get hit by a major appliance falling out of a window. Because, you know, instances of this are rising at 50% a year. Of course, that doesn't say anything about the numbers – it's not like it's up to 75 million after happening 50 million times the year before. We're talking up from two to three.

OK, so it's not a statistic that's in the book, but it is one of the points.

I'm not going to hit you with a lot of communication theory right here (I probably will in the review), but let's just say that despite what you might believe, you are susceptible to mass media, and if someone says it in a tone you trust, you might take it for truth without analyzing it. (This goes for me, too, not just you.)

As you go through your week this week, I want you to think about some of these things:

» Do you routinely avoid neighborhoods when walking or driving?
» Do you avoid certain sidewalk situations?
» Where do you park your car when you go to the mall or the grocery store?
» What do you eat? Or, more importantly, what do you not eat?
» What destinations make you nervous? Why? Does that stop you from going?
» Overall, why do you do the things you do? Why don't you do the things you avoid?

The Great Pretender

It's a little dreary out, but I took the walk downtown this morning. On the way, I was joined for a couple of blocks by a gentleman, perhaps in his mid-to-late-60s, clearly either drunk or high, who had been caught in the early-morning storm (you could tell because he was soaking wet).

He was singing one line from the Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" over and over, and he asked me if I had heard the song "The Great Pretender," which of course I had.

"That's what I am, the great pretender," he said.

He asked me to pick a number between one and ten in my head, and just be honest with him. I chose six.

"Is it an odd number?"

"No," I said, knowing I left him with five to pick from.

"Eight," he said, authoritatively.

"Not that one; you've got four left."

"Four?" he tried.

"Sorry. I'll give you three more guesses."

"Six," he finally got. "Let's try again."

This time I picked three.

"Is it an odd number?"

"Yes," I told him.

"I'm getting strong vibes on two numbers."

"Oh? Which two?" I asked.

"Three and five."

"Well," I said, "It is one of those. But which one?"

"Five," he said, very sure of himself.

"No, I went with three this time."

"Well," he said, "whatever you do today, make sure you have a fantastic day."

"That's my only goal today, sir," I told him. "You do the same."