Monday, July 27, 2009

Naked sellers should cover their assets

The SEC made the right move today by limiting naked short-selling.
In fact, I say the agency didn’t go far enough: It should ban naked short-selling on the public market.
Imagine if everyone at the E-Trade office at Market, Sansome and Sutter— full of windows, mind you — started naked short-selling. One or two naked sellers is bad enough — but a whole office full of them exposing their assets?
If someone wants to naked short-sell in the privacy of his or her own home, go for it. But there’s no way the market should support this kind of behavior.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Michael Vick's new sentence

If there was truly justice in this Home of the Free and the Atlanta Braves, disgraced pro quarterback and amateur dog-fight operator Michael Vick would face a probation that included watching the Detroit Lions.
"But, judge …," Vick would say at his sentencing, moments before breaking down in tears.
"I don't want to hear it, Mr. Vick," the judge would say. "And if you can't handle it, you'll have to play for the Lions."
Vick would be sedated and placed on a stretcher headed straight for Ford Field.
Just put a bag on your head, Michael -- like the rest of us who have taken our punishment during the 45-year William Clay Ford Era.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bike to Work Day

Ever since a cabby forced me to ditch my bike -- or get hit -- on a ride to work seven years ago, Christine has more or less put the kibosh on me pedaling into work again.
The fact that I wrenched my knee, had surgery, the doctor pulled a floating, one-inch piece of bone out of my leg -- and then I actually got hit while riding in Ann Arbor a couple years later -- only adds to her case. She tries to hide it, but I can tell she's nervous even when I ride on the weekends.
* sigh *
So I was thrilled to ride into work today as part of Bike to Work Day. Totally uneventful -- which is good, considering Market Street, from what I hear, can be a real bear for bicyclists. But I've biked down Market a half-dozen times now with no problems.
Someday. Someday. Maybe I can bike to work throughout the workweek.
A biking boy can dream.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to hike we go

I'll let Christine tell the story at her California Dreamin' blog.
(I think that's what's called "cross-marketing.")

Weird hair day

Benny's preschool had "Weird Hair Day." I think we found Benny's theme: Early '80s British punk rocker.
Rock on, dude!

Tough week

It started by learning three (than a fourth) coworkers were laid off. Then I got a late-afternoon phone call saying that my friend since the fourth grade, Lawrence Ewell, died suddenly near Philadelphia.
I've been in a daze all week -- probably not a good thing considering the layoffs.
Maybe it's time for me to go back and read Jim Carty's post that I copied below.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On resurrection

This from Jim Carty's "Paper Tiger No More" blog:

As I've written once before, probably the last significant conversation I had with my dad came when I was driving him to chemotherapy a few weeks before he would die of lung cancer. It was one of the very few times I helped out at all in the process of his dying - my mom and bro were both in New Jersey and carried all the serious weight. But we had this morning and afternoon together, and I'm very grateful for it. In the course of the conversation, I asked him if he was afraid of dying.

He said he was not. There was no bravado to it, he just said he was not, so I asked why.

Because, he said, he knew he was going to see his own mom and dad again.

He believed this as surely as you or I believe we will wake up tomorrow. Here was faith. Simple faith. Probably the most plain and fundamental exhibition of it that I've ever seen, or may ever see.

I do not have such faith. I struggle to believe, and with what I believe, including the resurrection story. This struggle has only gotten worse since my dad's death.

(Note as of July 2012 -- Oops, the link has been lost, and Jim Carty is no longer writing the blog. But trust me, it was a very nice piece of writing. :/)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Discovering The Wiggle

Just when I thought I -- and I alone -- had discovered a mostly hills-free way of getting from the Inner Sunset to downtown, I noticed the signs: "The Wiggle." At first I thought they were about my extra mid-body baggage; then I realized they were marking my flattish route.
Then, a few days later, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition wrote about it in a column in the Chronicle. (Read it by clicking on the blog post title above.)
Oh, well -- so much for my "discovery."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

At Land's End

Benny's on spring break this week, and Christine and I are splitting time between work (her day today) and home (my day today). So Benny and I headed over to the Legion of Honor, a fine art museum at Land's End, which is ... well ... at the end of the continent before it drops off into the waters of the Pacific.

We ended up not going to the museum today. Instead, the rain cleared and we walked along the nearby trail on the cliff above the ocean. The goal is to walk the full length of trails that stretch from Fort Funston at the southern edge of the city, along Ocean Beach, through Land's End, into the Presidio and to the Golden Gate Bridge. It's something like nine miles in all.

Land's End, as you can see in the photos (or they call them "images" now, don't they?), is simply beautiful. There are all sorts of urban encroachments nearby -- housing, a golf course, the Legion of Honor, etc. -- but the view is stunning. You look west across the ocean, north across the bay to the Marin Headlands or northeast to the Golden Gate Bridge (top photo). Or you pretend (like Benny is doing in the bottom photo) that you're scaring away the coyotes.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Get on the bus

One of the time-honored practices of Muni riders in San Francisco is the transfer transfer. (My own term.)
It involves either a) simply leaving your bus or train transfer on your seat for the next person or b) openly asking someone standing at the bus stop or on the bus/train if he/she wants your slender newspring proof of fare payment.
Although I buy a monthly bus pass for $45 -- well worth it, since I take at least two buses and two trains a day -- I like transfer transfers. They appeal to my sense of what makes a community -- helping out someone who may, if only today, had trouble coming up with the $1.50 they needed to catch the bus across town for work or school or whatever.
And, OK, maybe there's a sense of transfer transfers sticking it to The Man.
Now here comes Muni, faced with budget trouble on top of it's already bad service reputation, saying that it will eliminate some routes, severely cut back others and add revenue by, among other things, increasing fares and charging 50 cents for transfers. (When I get on a real computer, I'll add the link to Muni's triumpherate of budget-balancing options.)
This worries me. Will charging for transfers eliminate transfer transfers as we know them? Will this commercialize transfer transfers? Is "community" dead?
My stomach aches thinking of the guy who the other day offered me his transfer at the 9th/Judah stop now walking up to me saying, "Hey, buddy! Wanna transfer?" and opening up his trench coat to reveal a couple dozen thin-paper tickets.
"This one right here's a beaut! Runs out at 11 tonight --" He chuckles. "It's only 7 now. Who knows how far you could ride with it?
"I see you're a nice fella -- nice tie, by the way -- so for you, I'll let you have it for 40 cents. Almost the same as a donut over there at Donut World." He points to my white bakery bag, the chocoloate-and-sprinkles masterpiece practically calling out to me.
I wince. Maybe it's his price that causes me to cringe. Maybe it's the cruller I wolfed down a couple minutes ago.
He senses that he's losing a sale.
"Alright. So you're a man watching his dimes. I understand. 30 cents. You ain't gonna find a better deal, especially once you get past Forest Hill."
I shake my head, trying to be respectful. After all, he could be a Muni Cop, just waiting to bust some middle-aged punk looking for a bus joyride.
"That's alright. Maybe next time," he says. "I've seen you around here before."
And with that he takes off down 9th, into the fog that's moved in from the northwest, across Golden Gate Park and Judah.
My 6-Parnassus bus pulls up to the corner, waiting to make the left turn onto 9th. I fish my monthly pass out of my back pocket and hold it close to my chest. There but by the grace of Muni go I.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

School daze

After a month of not spending all my non-work hours (and many of my work hours) visiting potential kindergartens for Benny, I returned to action today, starting with feeding and bathing the boy. Christine got him dressed, and he brushed his teeth. Then Benny and I headed toward a sort of kindergarten interview at a Catholic school:

Wait for 6-bus ... wait ... check cell phone for next bus. One minute? It said 'one minute' five minutes ago! Argh!
Board 6-bus.
Reach the N-train line.
N-train arrives.
Arrive at church ... school ... Where do I go? Head around corner toward the school.
Benny: 'Can we go home?'
Get to school, wonder if this is the place. Spot sign: 'Kindergarten Testing: Please be seated until your child's name is called.' Walk in the door and immediately get intimidated by a statue of the Virgin Mary (?) looking over the shoulder of a little girl, pointing out something on a roll of paper. I wonder what the role says -- VM doesn't necessarily look into it.
Benny wants to keep his coat on as well as the water bottle on a strap that he got for Christmas from Yoko.
Benny spots kids going downstairs to playground; he wants to go.
Daddy relents, though worried about missing the all-important 'be seated until your child's name is called' moment. Wonders if all the women hanging out in the hallway are nuns, ready to slap my hand with a ruler for not obeying a Commandment or the commandment to sit and wait.
I call Benny back to the top of the stairs. He seems nonplussed by the playground. (Actually it's an asphalt parking lot with a few basketball hoops.)
We look at all the trophies and ribbons in a case in the hallway. Hmmmm, no Piston Cup.
Benny takes off the coat; maintains possession of the water bottle. We sit on two of the chairs lining the hallway. Benny wants to see momre of the school.
A woman comes over to a family down the hall, takes a little girl by the hand and leads her through glass doors into the library. Ah-ha, I think -- The Interview. The Test. ... The Future!
I point out this scene to Benny, and just as he starts to ask something ...
An older woman calls from down the hall, "Benjamin?" I jump up, Benny in tow. The woman tells Benny that I'll be right here, presumably to put him at ease. Whatever!
The woman leads him down the hall, and I return to my seat. I look back to see a silhouetted Benny hand-in-hand with the woman, walking into the library.
I feel like crying.
The first little girl comes out. Benny can't be far behind.
'Give me back my son!' I start to yell inside my head.
Benny emerges, and the woman tells me how wonderful he is. She says he needs to work on gripping a pen for writing and on his finger skills. Otherwise, she says he's wonderful. (I said that already, didn't I?)
We walk out on the playground. We hopscotch and run up and down the asphalt. We walk down the street and find a store with an ice cream.
He eats 85.7 percent of it. I get the rest.
We see one of Benny's friends from last year in the post office. I ask her what kindergarten she attends this year. She says it's the school we just visited. I ask how she likes it. She says the playground is 'ugly. There's bird poop all over the benches.'

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dem sum dim sum

This post originates from a conversation I heard between two guys on the subway platform the other day about the food column in the SF Chronicle. (Click above to access)

Man 1: I was reading this column today about dim sum.

Man 2: About dim sum?

Man 1: Yeah.

Man 2: There's a column in the Chronicle about dim sum?

Man 1: Yeah. It was really good — like she said it's bad form to take more than one thing at a time from the server's cart. It's like this American thing to take more than one. She said you're supposed to wait until you finish the first dish.

Man 2: So she's like the Ann Landers of dim sum.

Love it

My favorite part of the SF Chronicle ...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Are ready for some ... um ... football?!?

Road to Super Bowl XLIII flanked by 43 strip clubs


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — There's Lip Stixx and Centerfolds and the Bliss Cabaret.

There's Diamond Dolls and Bare Assets and the Wild Gentlemen's Club.

In fact, there are, by one count, 43 strip clubs in the Tampa metropolitan area — one for each Super Bowl. And the week of Super Bowl XLIII is to Tampa's naughty nightlife what Black Friday is to America's shopping malls.

All the exotic dancing joints have earned Tampa a bawdy reputation — the lads' magazine Maxim even put it on its top 10 list of best U.S. party cities a couple years ago, based mostly on the two score and more night spots to see naked or nearly naked women.

Now, with at least one spot planning to have a tent in the parking lot to handle the overflow of free-spending tourists, locals expect to profit mightily through kickoff Sunday evening.

"Based on what we did last Super Bowl (in 2001), the numbers will quadruple during that weekend," says Nick Polefrone, general manager of 2001 Odyssey, a landmark club known for the spaceship-shaped VIP room rising from the top of the building.

Across the street is Mons Venus, a joint that is listed among the best strip clubs in the world by users of a Web site called The Ultimate Strip Club List. The two upscale clubs — walking distance from Raymond James Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals will play the Pittsburgh Steelers — have been fixtures for decades. Polefrone figures Tampa's naughty national image grew out from there.

"Tampa has a reputation for having the most strip clubs and the most girls who are a lot of fun," says a 25-year-old exotic dancer named Claudia, who left her usual gig in Las Vegas to work the Super Bowl week here. (She asked that her last name not be used to save her family any embarrassment.)

Claudia says she's worked four previous Super Bowls and expects to make as much as $2,000 a day performing at 2001 Odyssey. Most clubs treat the dancers as independent contractors who pay a flat fee to the house and keep the rest.

"It's so crazy, everybody is in a such a party mood," she says. "It's a whole new level of everything."

The clubs have been busy auditioning more dancers and upgrading their interiors. Some will stay open 24 hours.

The Tampa Tribune helpfully added a feature to its Web site listing the 43 strip clubs and allowing Super Bowl visitors to search for such information as the cover charge and dress code.

Tired of Tampa's sleazy reputation, local lawmakers passed an anti-lap-dance ordinance before the last Super Bowl here in 2001, making it a misdemeanor offense for dancers to come within six feet of patrons. The measure got a lot of publicity, but police didn't arrest anybody during Super Bowl week.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis says officers won't be patrolling the clubs looking for dancers who get too close this time, but they'll be obliged to investigate if someone calls in a complaint.

"Our primary focus during the Super Bowl is going to be public safety," she says.

Bob Buckhorn, a former city councilman who pushed the six-foot ordinance, laments that the adult entertainment industry is "ingrained in the fabric of this community." The point of the law, he says, was to attack prostitution and prevent other crime by trying to keep guys away from those places. He wishes it was more aggressively enforced today.

"It's like cockroaches," Buckhorn says. "If you don't stay on top of it, it will infect and run you over. And that's exactly what's happened."

To the city's promoters, Tampa's image as the Lap Dance Capital of America is not exactly something to tout in the glossy brochures. Travis Claytor, spokesman for Tampa Bay & Co., the tourism bureau, would rather point out other attractions.

But in the end, a lot of visitors will still be packing the clubs at night.

"It's not necessarily a negative thing, it's just one aspect of this destination," the judicious Claytor says. "There is so much more to our area than that particular industry."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The fight of his life - San Francisco Business Times:

Mike Homer helped raise the money for 2,000 medical research computers. Now researchers are using that equipment to save his life.After Homer was diagnosed with a rare and invariably fatal brain-wasting disease, his network of friends marshalled cash, clout and connections on his behalf.Along the way, a hard truth has sunk in: It isn't enough.

read more | digg story

Obama's inaugural speech

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Following is the prepared text of President-elect Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as provided by the Presidential Inaugural Committee:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Monday, January 19, 2009

King today and tomorrow

I've been reading Michael Eric Dyson's "I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr." (2000, The Free Press) In the book, Dyson challenges us to remember King's message -- even the "dangerous" parts -- and to cast aside the antiseptic, highly marketable version of King today.

It's intriguing to me. I was waddling toward my third birthday when MLK was killed. Going to a mostly black elementary school, however, I was introduced to him and several other players that shaped black history by the time I was in second grade.

I embraced King's philosophy of non-violent change, but I've always wondered: How would I feel about him if I actually lived through the civil rights movement, and I myself was challenged/threatened by King to break from the status quo of a Jim Crow system that was the only society I knew? What if I viewed King in the 1960s like several view the Rev. Al Sharpton or the Rev. Jesse Jackson today?

So, on MLK day, a pullout from Dyson's book -- and a challenge for us all:

"[King's] methods of social protest were embraced by millions of whites as the best route to racial redemption. By embracing King, many whites believed the threat of black insurrection could be contained, perhaps even shrewdly diverted.

"To the chagrin of white leadership and the white press, Kiing stepped out of character -- at least the one they had written him into. He began to identify more strongly with the masses of black (and eventually, white and Latino) poor who had been invisible even within elite black circles. Moreover, King became increasingly anti-imperialist and chided the American government for its involvement in the Vietnam War. … In King's mind, race, poverty and war were intimately related. When King contended that all human life was tied together in a 'single garment of destiny,' he was lauded by liberal whites and integration-minded blacks. When he insisted that racism, economic inequality and militarism were the 'triplets of social misery,' he was attacked for oversimplifying complex social issues. …

"This is not the King we choose to remember. The King we prefer is easily absorbed into fast-food ads for his birthday celebration. Or he is touted, even by political leaders who opposed him when hhe lived, as the moral guardian of racial harmony. In truth, political conservatives have more ingeniously than their liberal coutnerparts appropriated King's image, identity and ideology. … When King changed his mind about race and class, he borth enraged conservatives and aliented liberals. While conservatives have zealously consumed King's earlier vision of race, evenn if to twist it perversely in a greatly changed racial era, liberals have refrained from appropriating King's words out of context to justify narrow interests. It is another thing altogether to understand the need to apply King's words skillfully, especially his more challenging words, to our current situation. Conservatives have retailed King's words. Liberals and progressives must retell his story. But we must make sure, in the interest of truth, to include the parts of King's vision that disturb us. …

"He bid America to make good on promises of justice and freedom for all persons, promises that had been extended almost two centuries before. Part of King's enormous genius was the ability to force America to confront its conscience. He also brilliantly urged American to reclaim a heritage of democracy buried beneath cold documents and callous deeds. …"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thinking about the future

The macro social and political upheavals of the 1960s had already sent fissures along the micro Lavette, McAllister and Pavone street communities of America when my mother saw the Hatten family walking toward Columbus School for a PTA meeting.

The Hattens represented what was changing about Benton Harbor, Michigan. Sure, they had the same upwardly mobile spirit that had driven people a generation earlier from Benton Harbor’s low-lying, low-income Flats neighborhood to the highlands a half-mile away.

This was before the heavy industry economy collapsed, and the Hattens must have foreseen a bright middle-class future ahead that was based on hard foundry work or, if lucky, an assembly job at the Whirlpool appliance factory. They had earned a ticket out.

But the Hattens were different. They were black.

I don’t remember if my mother knew the family at that point. If she had, she probably felt some community bond with them. Their Lavette Street home, between the very American-sounding street names of Clay and Harrison, was just two blocks over from where my parents, two older sisters and older brother had moved just before I was born in 1965.

Our unspectacular but sturdily built frame house in the 700 block of Pavone Street dated from the 1910s. It was where my mother largely was raised by my great-grandmother as my widowed grandmother worked. My great-grandparents had lived there since probably 1919, themselves moving from Lavette Street.

Whether my mother knew the Hattens before that day, I guess, doesn’t really matter. What she saw was a family – one of the growing numbers of proud black families moving in as whites fled to suburbia – dressed in their Sunday best and voting to take part in their children’s education.

It was the American dream realized.

Except they were turned away at the door. No blacks allowed.

That was some 40 years ago, and though I regret never talking in depth with my mother about how it shaped her, I believe it was that moment that she committed to no longer standing on the sidelines.

She may have felt guilty for not standing up for the Hattens that day. I don’t know. But what bubbled out of that experience -- like a cauldron fueled by what her Congregationalist upbringing –-- was the belief that God didn’t mean for a black family to be turned away from a PTA meeting because of the color of their skin.

I’m reminded of the story for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is Barack Obama’s upcoming inauguration as president of these United States.

A black man. President.

I wonder what the Hattens would think.

But Obama’s inauguration is not the mountaintop. Instead, I would argue, an Obama presidency is the precipice.
We, as Americans, can forge a new era in our history. By reaching out and sacrificing –- splicing and reconfiguring the best parts of our cultural DNA –- we can create a new America. Or we can succumb to the worst that the past eight years has laid at our door.

Obama did not get to this point without the helping hands of many people -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian and otherwise. At the same time, his speeches, writings and potential policies leave me with a sense that he is a man who has searched his past -- even angered by it -- to find out who he is today and who he could be tomorrow.

It is who we ALL could be tomorrow. It is the hope of Barack Obama's presidency and the legacy I hope it/my generation leaves. Maybe then the Hatten families of this world will be invited through the school door.