Friday, March 21, 2008

Deepening and widening Obama's conversation

Barack Obama is getting the conversation he asked us to have about race — and then some.

For starters, make that plural: "conversations." Millions of them are happening all over the country — and perhaps all over the world in this age of the world wide web.

One friend who e-mailed me drew my attention to an anti-Semitic exchange between Richard Nixon and Billy Graham, who was the closest Nixon had to a spiritual advisor.

My friend somewhat obliquely wrote that Nixon's relationship with Graham was "something that Obama should keep in mind."

The "something" he had in mind was the sometimes toxic roles pastors can play in the lives of politicians.

Something else to keep in mind is anti-Semitism. And so is prejudice against Moslems, Hindus, gays, pacifists, agnostics and atheists. (Try running for public office in this country as an open atheist, just for starters.)

Obama's conversation needs to go was wide as he would have it go deep.

So far it has been defined by race because of Obama's life experience with racism and the fallout from it.

There are, obviously, other experiences and other prejudices.

What Obama has been able to do is articulate the duality of prejudice because he is so transparently bi-racial and inter-racial, and ultimately trans-racial. He combines whiteness and blackness and so is able to transcend both. His perspective and experience, and his ability to articulate what they mean for him (and ultimately us), create a whole new way for us to look at and, most importantly, experience race.

Following his lead, we must see that ALL is in each of us. To hate or demean anyone is ultimately to hate and demean ourselves and all humanity.

And that is a stark reminder that the opposite of hatred is love.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eloquence, insight and truth-telling

My friend Joan Rutkowski and I have been writing back and forth about Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech. In the course of our correspondence, she shared with me an as-yet-unsent letter-to-the-editor.

I thought I would share it with you, with her permission. Here it is in slightly shortened form.

Never in my life have I looked forward to hearing a politician deliver a speech.
As a 33-year-old, I have observed just enough of the political process to distrust politicians.
But on Monday night, after hearing that Barack Obama was going to give a speech about racism in America and about his pastor’s comments, I wrote myself a reminder to watch it the next day.
I had viewed a few of his campaign speeches online before this and had already been moved by his inspirational and eloquent message. So, I was quite interested to see how he would handle an immediate, controversial issue.
As expected, he offered a nuanced and deeply thoughtful perspective on this country’s history of racial issues. But what most interested me, in the end, was how much I was drawn to listening to and thinking about his words. This was a full 37 minutes of watching someone stand at a podium, and yes, my attention span sometimes falters when it comes to television. But I was listening to every word. Closely.
This is the kind of communication that I think most of us long for from our political leaders — and almost never hear. What is most compelling to me, and many others, is what this speech exemplifies about his entire campaign and his character in general. Obama continually demonstrates a unique ability to communicate with both eloquence and insight about the issues that confront us. He can be pragmatic, as when he talks about his health care ideas, yet inspirational at the same time.
Hillary and others desperately try to write off his campaign as style over substance. But what cynics do not understand is that the inspiration he conjures comes not just from his eloquence, but from our gut feeling that this guy is telling us the truth . . .
Because we have many difficult issues to confront and solutions that are unlikely to make everyone happy, we need a leader whose words not only inspire, but educate and engage citizens.
This may explain why, in another first, my Republican-leaning father, mother, and brother, and myself, are all supporting the same candidate. It seems that hope, change, and unity are possible when expressed by the right person at the right time.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beyond the sound bites

Until this afternoon, I had heard only sound bites from Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech on race yesterday. Finally, after several friends e-mailed the link to the speech, I listened.

If you haven't heard and watched the speech in its entirety, I urge you to do so. It is here.

As Obama so poignantly explains, race and fear have been used for years to divide us and keep us from confronting America's real problems — its inequities and injustices. It is time — at long last — to look those problems dead in the eye and deal with them once and for all.

For all — together.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Typewriters on display at UP

A display and photographic "celebration"of some of my typewriters is now open at the University of Portland's Buckley Gallery.

The photos were taken by students in Pat Bognar's UP photography class.

Here's just one of the typewriters, an Underwood like one used by E.B. White.

For more on the exhibit go to to my typewriter blog site: Back Space Typewriters.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

In a sea of white

When I was 17 in the late ‘50s, Tubby Clayton, then an old Anglican priest, who had ministered to British soldiers in the grim trenches of the First World War, took me and a small contingent of young Americans on a pilgrimage to the military graves of northern France.

Each summer Tubby would return to the cemeteries with a different group of young Americans whom he had organized to volunteer in the settlement houses of poor London neighborhoods.

Tubby, who was in his 70s at the time of our visit to the endless, orderly rows of white tombstones, led us directly to the graves of the men he had known and ministered to.

As we stood next to each small headstone, he shared memories. Occasionally his voice cracked. He’d dab away a tear, then pause to gather himself. The pain of war — his shared pain — crowded around our little group as we stood in the thickened silence in the rolling sea of white.

I was reminded of that tableau as I stood at the PSU campus on Sunday amidst thousands of small flags marking the deaths that have resulted from the Bush/Cheney Oil War in Iraq.

The PSU exhibit ends on March 20, but, of course, the five-year-old war grinds on, its toll ever mounting. Somewhere, family and friends visit not miniature flags, but graves of the dead, of men, women and children swept away by folly and power, hatred and greed.

And like Tubby, a half century ago in France, the visitors are robbed of words by their tears and pain.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sign of the weird at PSU

Yesterday's post mentioned that I saw a puzzling sign at the construction site of the new Portland State student recreation center that read "Academic Student Recreation Center." After the only reference to the center I could find on line was to an "Academic AND recreation center, I began to doubt my reading of the sign.

The whole thing was quite bizarre. "Academic students"?

"Academic and Recreation Center"? What could that be?

Haunted by uncertainty about what the sign actually said, I returned to the site today to re-read the words. (I know, I know, I need to get a life. But, hey, it was Sunday.)

As you see, my memory had not failed me. Under construction, according to the sign, is an "Academic Student Recreation Center."

I dare not ask what the City of Portland Archives and Records are doing cheek to jowl with exercising academic students. (See the sign.)

Did someone say we must keep Portland weird?

Not to worry. We are on track at PSU.

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