Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama Live! - The Change Tour

Like most people in the U.S., I watched Barack Obama make his acceptance speech in front of 75,000 people in Denver's Invesco Field. After watching my beloved Ravens lose yet again in their last pre-season game, I was primed to watch another painful display that takes place in a stadium.

I'm not entirely sure why Obama insisted on choosing such a grand place to make his acceptance speech rather than simply doing it at the convention hall like all other presidential candidates have. Some said it was to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It is remarkable that in less than half a century we have gone from separate water fountains to having the first African-American presidential candidate nominated by one of the major political parties. It still felt awfully showboat-y to me. I'm sure some Republican pundits will liken the scene to one of Hitler's rallies. I won't do that, but every time I heard the audience cheer, I was waiting for the words "Seig Heil!" to filter through.

Now don't think I'm comparing Obama to Hitler in terms of their political positions, or that I expect Obama to be some evil dictator or anything. I'm more concerned about the cult of personality that surrounds Obama. He so charming, smooth, and articulate, you can't help but be mesmerized. He's got the same "it" factor that Reagan and Clinton had. However, unlike Reagan and Clinton, he doesn't appear to have the political saavy to navigate Washington.

I thought his speech was about as good as he could have made it. He addressed his critics who find his "Change" mantra too vague by laying out some specific policies he wants to initiate. He offered an olive branch to the Republican Party by outlining points of agreement both sides have on the issues of abortion and the energy crisis. He picked on McCain a bit, but not in a belligerent way. All in all, it was a speech presenting an earnest man with an earnest mission to bring the country together and improve the dismal state we find ourselves in.

That's wonderful. I wish I could believe it. I just feel that there is a certain piety about Obama that will be his undoing. In his acceptance speech, he mentioned the men and women of our armed services who are fighting not for red states or blues states but for the United States, implying that he wants to focus on our country as a whole and not a country divided by political polarities. And yet, on the previous night, Obama pulled out that horrid expression, "taking back America." Take back America from whom? The Republicans? Aren't they Americans too? This expression has been used by both parties whenever one or the other is out of power, and it sickens me whenever I hear it. We are all in this together and we must find common ground. After all the speechifying is over, I just hope whomever becomes president can remember that.

Ultimately, I still think that Obama will end up like Jimmy Carter if he becomes president. He's too certain of his ideas to work with Congress. I think he will get stonewalled, the country will roll along aimlessly for another four years, and he'll be out. For all his cult of personality, I don't think he can articulate a vision for the U.S. that everyone can rally behind.

So, now we get to hear what the Republicans have to say for themselves. Just like the Democrats at their convention in 1968, the Republicans won't have too much to crow about. All they can offer is a shaky promise that McCain will be better. Given McCain's unimaginative views presented so far, I can't believe their arguments will be convincing. This is going to be another depressing election.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Who Are These People?

No, this isn't a blog about Seinfeld.

My Aunt Mildred died a couple months ago, and her daughter sent some old pictures to my mom that my aunt had in her possession. I told my mom it might be a good idea if I scanned them and saved them on a disc for her in case the originals got lost or damaged. She agreed and gave me the photos, which I searched through to make sure I knew who everyone was (I wanted to add captions to the photos as well). Most of the people I recognized as very young versions of family members, but I came across one shot that made no sense to me. Here it is:

This was taken at an old beach resort on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called Betterton. The town still exists, but it is no longer a resort. Once upon a time, before there was a Bay Bridge for automobile traffic to cross the Chesapeake Bay, people from Baltimore would take a steam ship to this sleepy town to escape the summer heat. After the Bay Bridge was built, people drove to the larger Ocean City and the resort business of Betterton died off. Anyway, here was this picture amid all the family photos with two guys clowning for the camera. Now, I believe the chubby man on the far right is my grandmother's father, Fred Frampton, and the woman next to him, partially obscured by the two goofy guys, is my Aunt Mildred. But why did we have a photo of these two unknown characters.

"Who are these guys?" I asked my mother.

"Oh, I think they were friends of my grandfather," my mom replied.

I accepted that answer as the best I could get, but days later, when I set about scanning and photoshopping all the pictures my mom gave me, I couldn't help but ponder this particular one. What were these guys' backgrounds? What did they do for a living? How did they know Fred Frampton? Who's the little boy next to them, laughing at their antics? Is that little boy still alive? I'm not exactly sure when this photo was taken, but I'm guessing the 30s, based upon the clothes and the general look of things in the photo.

Old photos fascinate me. The original intent of the person taking the photograph was undoubtedly to capture the friend or family member in the middle of the shot, but as time goes by, the really interesting parts of a photo are all the little details in the background. When you look at this photo, just seeing the signage and that gasoline pump in the background, you know this is from a much older era. The world doesn't look like that anymore.

And I love how people dressed back then. Given the fact that this is Maryland in the summer, it has to be at least 80 degrees there, but the men are wearing long pants, hard shoes, and hats. Granted, everything is light colored and probably cotton, but nowadays everyone would be wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers or sandals. And those folks didn't have a nice air-conditioned room to go back to. They had to stay in the creaky barn of a place they called the Betterton Hotel. I stayed there once or twice as a little kid during the waning days of the resort, and it felt like living in a haunted house. The place was so remote, the room was completely black at night when you turned the lights out. I would fixate on the tiny spear of light seeping through the old-fashioned keyhole from the hallway. It was a lifeline of safety until I finally fell asleep.

But getting back to the two jokers in the picture, I guess they will be a family mystery. They look like they may have been fun to have around, or maybe they were insufferable attention-grabbers who thought more of their humor than everyone else did. Who knows? The past is so permanently closed to us.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Football is Back!

Football season officially starts for Baltimore tonight as the Ravens play their first preseason game against the New England Patriots tonight at 7:30, and I can't be more excited! Not that preseason games are all that interesting, and we all know that the Patriots will beat the pants off us, but I still love watching football and rooting for the Ravens no matter how bad they play. I tried to settle my burning football itch this summer by watching the Orioles, and when they were winning early on, I have to admit I felt like perhaps I might become a baseball fan. But as the weeks dragged on and the Orioles slipped further and further below .500, the early goodwill faded away and now I can't bring myself to watch a complete game anymore. Plus, I started to remember why I never liked baseball all that much: there's too many games! How can any one game or any one play matter when you have to play 165 freakin' games per season? In football, everything matters because there are only 16 games to prove yourself, and each playoff game has to be a win or you're out.

I know most people discount preseason games. They say they don't mean much and they don't count for anything. I don't subscribe to that mentality. I suppose if your favorite team is the Patriots or the Cowboys or the Colts, the preseason is meaningless because you already know you have a team full of seasoned pros who will sail into the playoffs no matter what. When you're a Ravens fan, these "meaningless" games give us a chance to see if there are any new gems in the mix who might take us to the promised land, because the Ravens always seem a few steps away from being great. That goes double for the offense.

Of course, we long-suffering Ravens fans can never count on the coach or GM to make the correct assessments from these rookie tryouts. I remember the summer of 2005, when we had already suffered through two seasons of the struggling Kyle Boller as starting quarterback, and we had just acquired Derek Anderson. While Boller and Anthony Wright showed that they were both still the bumbling twins, Anderson looked like a real quarterback. I was so excited that we might finally have a true starter in our midsts. Of course, our "offensive guru" Brian Billick saw things differently, cutting Anderson from the team and sticking with his boy Kyle. Last season, while we were still struggling and Anderson was becoming a shining star with the Browns, Billick gave one of his long-winded explanations about why he had to drop Anderson, rambling on incoherently about other priorities and such nonsense. The man could never admit a mistake, regardless of how many he made. We may not have Anderson this season, but thank God we don't have Billick this year either.

We've put our faith in an untested coach with John Harbaugh. I like Harbaugh as intensely as I hated Billick because he is the anti-Billick. He's honest, straight-forward, and not at all flashy or egotistical. His focus is on team-building and tough training camps. He's not going to pamper his veterans and put up with the thuggish attitude issues that have plagued the team in the past. If it costs us some of those high-priced prima donnas in the process, I say so be it. We're building a team for the future, and I don't mind if we lose a bunch of games this season so long as we weed out the dead wood and put together a cohesive team.

Along those lines, I'm encouraged to read about how well some of our draft picks are doing. I would love for running back Ray Rice to play great and give us the chance to dump that flake Willis McGahee. I don't know why Billick and GM Ozzie Newsome were so willing to take on players who were problem cases for other teams. They're just distractions. I hope Harbaugh will kick him to the curb. I also hope that Troy Smith and Joe Flacco give us a reason to have faith in them as our quarterbacks of the future. I like Kyle Boller as a person, but I just don't think he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback. Another Billick mistake we need to correct.

I know I don't have any profound insights on the subject of football, but I've watched enough ESPN to know that those guys don't know any better than I do what's going to happen. They base their opinions on how teams played the previous season, and in the NFL, most teams never look like they did the previous season. Between the draft, free agency, and the salary cap, few teams can maintain any continuity. As much as I hate the Patriots and Bill Belichick, I have to give them credit for having a consistently strong team year after year. I think it all starts with a team mentality, and that no one player is bigger than the team. That's an attitude I think Harbaugh will bring to the Ravens. Billick was all about star making, including for himself. I've had a bellyful of that and look forward to the Ravens becoming a team that Baltimore can be proud of, not just because of wins, but because they play cleanly and professionally. Time will tell, and I'm so glad that time starts tonight.