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."

Book review: You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

This is my first go at the work of Jonathan Lethem, and I'm glad I gave it a shot (thanks OCPL).

Lethem is primarily an essayist, and as such, he has a nice, smooth way with words.

Lucinda is a 20-something who plays bass in an L.A.-based band. She recently quit her job as a barrista and is now working for her capital-A Artist ex-boyfriend, answering phones on a complaint line. She falls in lust with a complainer, who winds up joining the band, fronted by another ex of hers.

There are some interesting characters, and some very L.A. situations.

It's a quick, fluffy read. Definitely enjoyable, definitely summer, and I almost feel like I need to read some non-fiction to make up for my indulgence, but we'll see what the library has around lunch time on Monday.

[Ignore the following link, it's for something entirely unrelated to you.]
http://www.blogdash.com/edit_profile/blog_claim/blog_claim.png?s=0cbeefa9e38d84368e9725fbe1f7816e

Tearing down Interstate 81

If you've managed to jump around blog-to-blog with me, you know that taking down the elevated portion of I-81 between I-690 and I-481 is one of big things.

People have to understand that the bridges either need expensive shoring up or expensive taking down, so it's not like it's a project that's coming out of nowhere.

The Onondaga Citizens League has started a blog (h/t to Greg Munno), and their first case study is I-81.

They start with some history, which is really instructive for me. I didn't grow up here, and at any rate, even if I did, I wouldn't remember the end of the Erie Canal and what that meant for the city.

There used to be rail service down Washington Street, and it was really difficult for people at street level – and not real safe, considering some of the cargo.

One solution was to consider elevated tracks. But people were adamantly against that. It would divide the city, they argued.

That's exactly why elevated tracks weren't built, and exactly what happened when the interstate was.

Huh.

If I had my way, frankly, we'd rip up Washington Street and Salina Street, not allow cars on them, and restore passenger rail service to the old Syracuse & Utica rails that are still buried throughout the city.

We'd continue to run the freight trains where they are now, but turn the north-south corridor and the east-west corridor through the city into mass transit and pedestrian ways. With two-to-four trains running per hour on each corridor (depending on the time of day), I bet ridership could be huge. A couple of elevated walkways would solve the crossing-the-street problem, and trains aren't really any louder than buses, trucks and other traffic.

The other piece to the puzzle is University Hill, which is entirely cut off from downtown, thanks to I-81 (and don't give me that "why don't people just walk under the highway?" crap; it's seriously unsafe). A study was finished last year assessing the needs of the university area, particularly as concerns bike and foot traffic (PDF).

Imagine if all the Syracuse University and SUNY ESF students were able to easily patronize business in other areas – and people in the rest of the city were easily able to patronize the Marshall Street businesses without fighting with university parking?

Wow.

There apparently is already a group dedicated to taking down freeways, and they outline challenges and successes.

If you want to get involved locally, watch the the SMTC's I-81 Web site for news, including some citizen forums.

Downtown, revisited

I feel like it's been a really long time since I've taken myself downtown when it wasn't necessary, or for a specific event.

Thursday evening, I got home from work, and went out to hop on a bus. And it turns out all those stories about ridership being up are true. I'm used to seeing about 10-15 quiet, almost sullen, people on that 4:30 bus.

But the bus was full – standing room only – and people were bumping into old friends. This is why they call it mass transit.

I made a beeline for the Tusk, where I sat in the back room with my laptop and a Boddingtons and made a huge amount of progress on a project that's been dogging me for a while.

While I was working, two gentlemen in town for the evening from New Jersey (who had been working at Fort Drum for a few days and said they had exhausted their options in Watertown) slid into a booth. I gave them a tour of Armory Square from the window; I later saw one of them coming out of Sound Garden with a bag, and they appeared to be taking my recommendation to head over to Ambrosia for dessert.

I decided to celebrate my success with dinner and a (naked) Honey Light at the Suds Factory, where someone waiting for a take-out order wanted to chat about the menu.

And people are always telling me how un-friendly Syracuse is.

If you need an introduction – or re-introduction – to downtown, why not come to the 40 Below Civic Engagement meeting Monday? It takes place at 5:30 on the 18th floor of the State Tower building. They always wrap up right around 6:30, and I'll be happy to show you around afterward.

Introducing the Big MacCruiser

Y'all know how I love things that use less gas. Like bikes and feet and that sort of thing. So why not vegetable oil?

Yes, the thought of McDonald's signs on local police cars gives me the runs, but hey, if they're going to run Manila's fleet on used cooking oil, well, why not?

I find it interesting that most of the comments on the article are U.S.-focused; they're right-leaning because of the conservative source.

To tell you the truth, though, I am more than happy to have air that smells like burnt potatoes (can't be any worse than Onondaga Lake on a bad day – where the heck is Honeywell with our clean-up?) in exchange for running cars that rack up a lot of mileage on an alternative fuel source, especially one that's in abundance.

Trade Manny? Ride out the season? Re-sign him?

There is nothing I hate more than working with a team in which someone is not pulling his or her weight.

But there's a corollary to this, and it's an ethical question that I don't have a good answer to: If someone's potential output is greater, by far, than the potential output of most team members, and the person's actual output is quite a bit greater than the output of other team members, is the person not pulling his or her weight if s/he does not appear to be doing as much as s/he is capable of?

Enter Manny Ramirez.

Every year right around this time, the Red Sox slugger does something fans say is "just Manny being Manny," and the team declines to comment.

This year, it's being taken up a notch.

The brief background, in case you missed it: Ramirez pulled himself out of Friday night's game against the rival Yankees (a game the Red Sox lost 1-0). He claimed to have sore knees, and rather than just sit him out, the Sox sent him to the hospital for an MRI.

His knees looked fine. And if, more than halfway through the year, your knees are sore but not damaged, and you're collecting a $20 million paycheck, you play a big game against a big opponent.

Usually, everyone is very quiet about this. Ramirez does a little whining, the Red Sox management says they'll take care of it in-house, and everybody goes back to playing baseball.

But Ramirez is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, and he has what in baseball is called 5/10 – five years with the same team, and 10 years in the majors. His 5/10 gives him the ability to veto any trade (think: "The Nationals are the worst team in baseball and are out of the playoff race. I won't accept a trade that sends me there.).

But written into his contract are team options for the next two seasons. That means at the end of 2008, the Red Sox can say, "you're coming back to play for us in 2009, and we'll pay you $20 million." And at the end of 2009, they can do that again for 2010.

So Ramirez isn't really sure what his job is going to look like for the next couple of years, and he really doesn't have any control over it.

Add to that, the fact that the trade deadline is fast approaching, so Ramirez' veto power aside, if the Red Sox are going to deal him, it has to be soon.

What's the big deal? Well, since joining the Red Sox in 2001, Ramirez has been named to the all-star team every year. He has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times. He hits around or above .300, every year, and tops 20 home runs, and sometimes 40. Check out his career stats: you can't just let that walk out the door, can you?

And this is where we come back to the ethical dilemma. Ramirez' potential is huge, and he's near the top of the team in every major offensive statistic (tied for first in home runs, fourth in doubles, third in batting average, second in RBI). But he appears to not be doing as much as he could. What do you do with him?

First off, the Sox need his numbers. No doubt.

That's going to make trading him, as Dan Shaughnessy suggests, really difficult. Ramirez says he won't veto any trade, but let's face it – unless someone like Albert Pujols is involved, the Sox aren't going to trade him – they need to get the output they're getting rid of back in return.

Shaughnessy reminds us that this happened back in 2004 with Nomar Garciaparra doing all the whining, and management did manage to make a trade – and the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

So it could happen.

What's not going to happen is just telling him to get out.

Whether or not the Sox trade him, Dan Lamothe knows what he's talking about: Manny Ramirez will most likely not be in a Red Sox uniform come 2009.

While this is a little sad, look at the bright side. Yes, there's a learning curve playing left field in Fenway Park, and Ramirez plays the wall fairly well, Pawtucket left fielder Chris Carter is hitting .299 with 22 home runs and 74 RBI. Compare that with Ramirez' .302/19/65, and it's a toss-up.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Carter can do for Boston next season.

Miller High Life TV commercials: The class angle

I'm not a big fan of Miller beer. To tell the truth, I'm not a big fan of many mass-produced beers.

But from a class standpoint, I really like the ad campaign Miller has been running.

If you've not seen the campaign, it features a Miller delivery guy systematically removing the beer from the shelves of institutions he deems unworthy of selling an "everyman's" beer.

The reasoning? If you're a restaurant charging $11.50 for a hamburger, or a club charging people $20 for the privilege of coming in to buy a drink, you don't deserve to be selling a beer so good and with such a draw that the average person can't afford the other things you sell.

Another ad shows the delivery guy busting into a luxury box at a baseball game, where people in suits don't even know what inning it is. He deprives them of their Miller beer and delivers it to the true fans, those with foam fingers sitting in the bleachers.

Check out more of the ads here.

Jordanian Dinar

The best man from the wedding this weekend (the groom's older brother) is a military contractor working in the Middle East (mostly Iraq, but he travels throughout). He handed out some dinars as souvenirs.