Archive for category: News Outta My Control

The Bush Years: It’s a Wrap (But Hardly a Pretty Package)

19 Jan 2009
January 19, 2009
Bush's Last Day

I’ve been wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with this date and slogan for over two years. And I can’t believe January 20, 2009 is finally upon us. I feel like a veil is being lifted and like victims of oppression who suddenly become free of their oppressors, I am both filled with hope and anxiety when I consider the future ahead for us. Things will not change right away and some things will be hard for Barack Obama to right. These eight years will not go away that easily.

The actual attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon seem far in the past (although their effects do not). The Iraqi and Afgani Wars, Osama and Al Qaeda –it’s hard to believe George W. Bush has been in power during this whole period. It seems like forever (it has been forever). I am less naïve and see our success as a people much more tied to the rest of the world. George W., you showed me that over the years. Your actions spoke volumes. And I learned the hard way by your mistakes and missteps.

Early on I felt isolated from many Americans, those who saw your policies in very different ways. I’m gratified after eight years I am no longer in the minority. It took awhile but those missteps became onerous to most. But many paid a high price and sacrificed their lives because of your decisions. I don’t take terrorism lightly but I’m hoping there are other ways to fight it. I am looking forward towards a more humble period in our history.

I started Life Outtacontext in February 2001, just as your first term began. But it wasn’t until 9/11 that I began to write about the “News Outta My Control.” As a reaction to September 11 I created Dichotomy: It Was a Matter of Time and Place as a way for others to tell their stories, pairing missives from those who were affected directly by these attacks with those who experienced them via the media. I just received my most recent contribution just last week.

During the last few days I’ve been taking stock of the last eight years through my writings here. Below is a list with links to my thoughts these last two Bush terms. Some of these stories remind me that some of us have an incredible ability to analyze our situation accurately (unlike the Bush Administration’s WMD assertion), like Seymour Hersh. In a 2003 post he tells us that it’s Pakistan, not Iraqi, that should concern us the most. Or like Steve Mehallo’s 2003 poster for peace that says “Make Jobs Not War. We’re starting to see the light now.

Others remind me that I can be outspoken in quite an idiosyncratic sort of way: here, here, and here. (Oh, and don’t forget here, here and especially here.) Some pieces I am even proud of. Freedom fries be damned!

While just a regular “Joe” citizen, living in Washington has over the years given me access to the centers of power. Like the time I ran into John Ashcroft on the street, or when my wife and I were invited to Vice President Cheney’s house. And sometimes politics got personal. It’s been a hard, but interesting eight years. September 11, the Iraqi War, the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections, Katrina, and the economic dive-bomb. It’s all here.

The list below seems so nice and tidy. But life for all of us has been far from it. To better times!

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Inauguration Porta-Potties #2

17 Jan 2009
January 17, 2009
Sign on Porta-Potty

Pierson’s Comfort Group, LLC gets the award for the best slogan in the Porta-Potty business. Click image for detail.

Don’t think me anal but I must continue my porta-potty report from yesterday. This morning the Washington Post is reporting on the details of the massive Inaugural stimulus package on the National Mall (let it be known that this venerable newspaper is just as astute at word play as I am, titling this article “Mall Area Is Flush With Portable Facilities”).

According to the Post, Conrad Harrell, vice president of Chantilly-based Don’s Johns thinks “the total inaugural Toilet Tally could top 7,000. That’s a one-day bathroom capacity of nearly half a million gallons, an epic of septic. ‘There was an event in Germany where they installed 8,000 for a visit by the pope, but there’s never been anything like this in this country,’ said Harrell… ‘We feel like we’re part of history.'” I can’t top that.

But I do have to give the award for the best porta-potty business slogan to one of Harrell’s competitors. Pierson’s Comfort Group states it boldly: “We’re #1 in the #2 business.” I really can’t top that.

Sizing Up the Inauguration

16 Jan 2009
January 16, 2009
Porta-potties next to Washington Monument

Porta-Potties Stand Ready and Waiting for Inaugural Hordes.

Am I ready? Well, to be honest, I am a bit nervous. Will I be standing in a sea of four million out-of-towners or two million –many natives have decided to go skiing. (Follow the rules people and we’ll get along just fine.) Will the Metro actually get me where I’m going? The Metro’s General Manager isn’t so sure. He is sure “something will happen on the 20th.” That’s what I like: confidence.

Am I prepared for the cold and the hours I’ll be standing on the National Mall? I’m working at it. Concerned that I might bring some prohibited item with me I checked out the special Inaugural sections of both the Secret Service’s Web site and the DC Government’s Web site. And I found a discrepancy. The Secret Service says prohibited items are just for the parade and Inaugural Balls. While the DC site says that same list is for all Inaugural events. I put in a call to the Secret Service (their headquarters are right next to my office) and they said they’d get back to me, but never did.

I tweeted the problem and suddenly the Canadian Embassy was following me on Twitter. Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, right on the parade route, the Embassy requested more info. Suddenly, I was at the center of international intrigue. I immediately requested “heat asylum” (to watch the parade from the Embassy’s incredible vantage point all warm and cozy) but was flatly rejected (but some of my best friends are Canadian!). So much for social media’s diplomatic channels.

Bottom line: I’m traveling light. Got my special mittens with “retractable” covers. Underneath are fingerless gloves so I can take photos without fear of frostbite. Layers, layers, and more layers. Bottled water, camera with extra SD cards and batteries, and energy bars. Check. Everything has to fit into my heavy down coat’s pockets. No backpacks allowed. Yep, I’m all set.

Am I worried about taking a pee in this sea of humanity? Nope. I took a lunch hour this week to go down and survey the facilities. The photo above even made the front page of the dcist yesterday.

My biggest concern is whether I’ll be stuck in the middle of the Mall. Unlike four years ago, when the Bush Inaugural crowds were a bit more manageable, it may be hard to move around. I like to photograph the “edges” of the action. That’s where the good stuff usually can be found.

Stay tuned. I’ll be reporting in live from the Inaugural on Twitter from the best, albeit the chilliest vantage point I can find.

Related Post: Inaugural Porta-Potties #2

The Composite Sum of Obama’s Face

06 Dec 2008
December 6, 2008
Obama lookalike

Beauty has always been a product of the social attitudes of the time. During the Renaissance voluptuous Rafaelesque women were the standard aspiration while in the 1960s, and certainly today, thin –even an emaciated look– is often what people admire.

While waiting for the subway after work yesterday I found a new back-lighted dental ad at my usual standing spot. Quick! Who does this man look like?

Is it a coincidence this model reminds me of Barack Obama? His election was more than the total electoral votes he garnered –some even calling it a post-racial social revolution. Oh, our propensity to overstate and overstate prematurely. His election was only a beginning. We’re all still racists. How could we not be, given the importance and effect race has had in our society? We’ve got a long way before race is not the issue. But we did learn this time that something else was more important to most of us when it came to our vote. That’s a watershed.

From his campaign logo to his iconic visage for change, the visual in social politics and contemporary culture is once again on its ascendancy. And it was inevitable that Obama’s “look,” beginning as a political critique, would find its way into advertising.

Right now, this is all about Obama and what political and social changes his administration with usher in. But, ultimately, this will be less about him and more about how we see ourselves. An ad for a Dupont Circle dentist is an interesting beginning.

The couple pictured above could be black or white or a mix of cultures and races. I’m reminded of Nancy Burson’s 1980s computer composite photographs, and her Human Race Machine which allows us to see ourselves as a mix of ethnicities. Yes, this couple could be a composite. Then I look at my own family, a mix of European and Han and Mongol Chinese –our transracial family. Each of us literally comes from a different part of the world. We’re less a composite and more of a sum.

Whether composite or sum, it’s the understated mix that Barack Obama’s presidency heralds. A norm. Expect to see more racially mixed or ambiguous advertisements. High style is often at the forefront of cultural shift. But dental ads are another little step. This isn’t Vogue. Suddenly it will seem as if it’s always been this way. And, in a way, it always has.

Update: Washington’s local NBC affiliate picked up this piece and wrote about it on their Web site. The most interesting part of their reportage was the comments. Most readers felt it must have been a slow news day for the station to write this up. Reading NBC’s post I can see why. Rather than treat the dentist’s advertising photo in the context of a larger cultural identity shift, they chose to write it up with comic overtones: times must be tough if Obama’s looking for a second job. Using humor to talk about serious issues is difficult (especially about people trying to find work). NBC, you might want to stick with reporting facts from now on.

The Boxer Rebellion

23 Nov 2008
November 23, 2008
Boxer puppy

So cute. And just perfect for the First Family and the Gates family.

While the rest of the country recovers from the election, Washington is swimming in a sea of Obamamania. It’s not surprising considering that Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha will be moving in just down the road. For us all politics is local. You see, while I live just outside the Beltway, I often connect with the Politicos of DC in more intimate ways –sometimes directly and sometimes in an off-the-cuff chit chat moment. They’re locals, just like us. Many of my neighbors work directly with political higher ups. Oh, the stories they tell –all off the record of course. Of course. We’re neighborly but definitely discreet. Yeah, that sort of thing is commonplace around here.

So while the Washington Post dutifully reports on Obama’s cabinet choices with brevity on its front page, the social aspects of the First Family To Be are treated as local news in the Style section. After all, this is our hometown paper.

So I wasn’t surprised when I spied another “what dog should the Obama’s get” story in this morning’s edition. But I was riveted to the article when I noticed a big picture of a Boxer dog. The Post, with all the authority it could muster, was recommending the First Family get a Boxer. While the Poodle was the choice of the 42,000 people who voted in the American Kennel Club’s poll for the best dog for the Obama girls, the Post had what it thought a more appropriate choice:

Given all factors considered, though, we’re going for something else. We’re going with something fitted to your size, physique and the temperament of your chief of staff. Yes, we’re talking about what the AKC calls “the well-conditioned middleweight athlete of dogdom,” the boxer!

I grew up with Boxers. And I melt when I see one. I will stop and talk to total strangers when they are walking one. They are wonderful family dogs. And I’ve been working on my wife for years to add one to our family tree. The article continues: “According to Kennel Club’s Web site: ‘The breed is known for standing up on its hind legs and batting at its opponent, appearing to box with its front paws.’ Perfect for dealing with Congress!” But more importantly, it goes on to say: “One of the breed’s most notable characteristics is its desire for human affection, especially from children. They are patient and spirited with children, but also protective, making them a popular choice for families.”

So true. So very true. My two girls are on board. But it’s been a hard sell for my wife. You see, she was bitten by two “huge” German Shepherds as a girl and is a little dog shy of bigger breeds. After taking the family to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua a couple weeks ago she tried to convince me that pint-sized, um, dog would be a perfect choice for us. Really? You’ve got to be kidding, Wife!

Of course, I’m sensitive to her early childhood experiences. And I try to help her rise above them whenever possible. Early in our marriage, even before we had children, I tried to “de-sensitize” her by taking her to a local Boxer dog show. Seeing hundreds of Boxer dogs in one place was pretty funny. And not one pooch was biting anyone. But she wasn’t totally convinced. Dear, Boxers are not German Shepherds. Way different temperaments (and much cuter).

I can’t wait for the rest of the family to wake up so I can show them this article. Barack and Michelle, heed the advice of the venerable Post. As dutiful Democrats, we will fall in line right behind you. Well, that’s what I’ll suggest to my wife.

Notes from an Exhausted Real American

30 Oct 2008
October 30, 2008

Orlando News Anchor Asks the “Fair and Impartial” Questions.

I’m exhausted. Obsession can do that to you. During the primaries I was disconnected. I didn’t read much about politics or watch the campaigns unfold on TV. But the moment (the moment!) I heard Sarah Palin speak at the Republican National Conversation I was hooked. With little faith in the general electorate’s ability to see “truth” beyond her sharp delivery I was immediately drawn into the fray. My lack of faith has become a quadrennial problem of mine.

From that point I began to listen to every word Obamabiden and McCainpalin uttered. I combed numerous Web sites for analysis. And the moment I got home from work I tuned into both CNN and MSNBC while multitasking with my iPhone. My mood rose and fell with each and every poll.

As the campaign developed I began to prioritize my pundits and spokespeople. Early on, interviews with independent voters provided the most interesting information. Party members and their surrogates provided the least. I categorized reporters left to right and on any particular day, depending on my stamina, I might be able to stomach listening to at least one deeply Red. But I often quickly reached my limit as I did yesterday watching Tom DeLay spew with a sardonic smile on Hardball. (If you want to see a person’s true persona watch him on a slow fast forward with no sound.)

Truth be known, I tuned to Fox News every now and then. I wasn’t looking for “fair and impartial” but I was looking for intelligent discourse wherever I landed. There’s nothing wrong with a biased media. Plurality is good for a vibrant society. But Hannety, what can I say? You and Rush Limbaugh exude boogieman tactics, pandering to the fears of others and catering to the lowest common denominator. You call Obama an elite but what about the racial and religious elites you’ve stirred up?

In his book What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America Thomas Frank suggested that people would often vote against their best economic interests, instead letting cultural issues determine their votes. But when we hear “We’re voting for the n***er.” stated flatly to door-to-door campaign canvassers, it’s safe to say Frank’s theory has finally found its tipping point. John McCain, the economy and your attempts to place your opponent on the fringe of society did you no good. You weren’t nimble enough to turn this election around. Instead, you tried to turn the rest of us into ugly, unpatriotic Americans. You even banished those in your own party who questioned your narrowed party orthodoxy, your faux conservatism as George Will calls it in today’s Washington Post. Colin Powell and Christopher Buckley, you’re out. David Brooks, you’d better watch out, you’re next. Exclusion rather than inclusion has marked your campaign and the 2008 edition of your Party.

Instead, Barack Obama’s curiosity drew me in –looking at life with a handful of questions and looking for those answers even when they were ultimately unanswerable. Obama’s message isn’t about liberals verses conservatives: a divisive “us” verses “them.” It’s about looking forward with hope rather than fear. And it has ignited millions who are curious about the future instead of fearful. Last night’s Obama informercial was stirring. Pie in the sky? Just a bit, but a potent piece of pie after the last eight years. McCain, you dismissed the power of this message.

Yelling above your guest won’t get you far, Fox News.

But now I’m tired –tired of being wired to the pundits, spokespeople, and this election cycle. I need some rest from Pat Buchannan. Poor McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer was recently skewered by Chris Matthews when she defended Sarah Palin’s definition of the V.P. Never want to hear from you again, Nancy (and I’m sure you’ve had it with Chris). Tucker Bounds? I’m dumping you for someone who doesn’t believe in elevating obfuscation to a high art form. Carla Fiorina, where will your next job be? Oh, you won’t need one with your $21 million golden parachute from HP. Almost forgot about that. NYT columnist William Kristol: he’s all yours Sarah.

So when Obama decided to take two days off to see his ailing grandmother, I was ready to go with. Two days away from this political circus could do me good: a time to re-energize. When he said he missed his mother’s death in the 1990s and wanted to do things differently this time, I was reminded of my own parents’ final illnesses and the similar decisions I had to make. And suddenly I was back in the real world again. Rather than operating on instruments, Obama decided he needed to step out of this political vortex. When faced with the media in Hawaii, he went back home without saying a word, a strong indication he knows what’s really important.

Mr. Obama, it looks like the economic dive and John McCain’s missteps formed your Perfect Storm. And you just may be front and center for the next four years. (If it’s any indication I’ve just added your name to my Microsoft dictionary.) I’ll be keeping tabs and speaking out when necessary. Election rhetoric aside, I’m counting on you and Congress to make fundamental changes in how we conduct our affairs. But while you’re doing that keep your intellectual curiosity in high gear. It’s what first made me believe in you.

As for me, I’m ready to give up my election analysis and go back to my regular job as a middle class working real American.

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