At Least They Can Make Change

While I was eating lunch at Needham St.’s Fresh City, which, despite being owned by McDonalds, still manages to make my favorite incarnation of the Chicken Caesar Wrap, I overheard a pair of young female employees, who had clearly been recently hired. They were poring over the training manuals, in large white three-ring binders, and quizzing each other. One particular exchange caught my attention.

Girl 1: “What are the five F’s of service?”

Girl 2 (ticking them off her fingers): “Uh…friendly, fast, focused, fantastic….uh…did I say focused?”

Girl 1: “Yeah.”

Girl 2: “Um….”

Girl 1: “Where do you work?”

Girl 2: “Oh! Fresh!”

Now that’s service.

Impeach the President

Finally, someone intelligent and qualified has put our thoughts into words: Why we must impeach Bush.

Thoughts from a Watertown Cafe

Sunday morning, I caught a bit of Meet the Press on which they showed news clips from episodes of the show on which Martin Luther King had appeared in the ’60s. It got me thinking: what would today be like in a world in which Dr. King was still alive?

The 60s were rife with assassinations in a way in which today’s paranoid, security-conscious environment can hardly fathom: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X. It is, of course, impossible to know whether these figures would have had the same impact on history had their lives not been cut short, but I find myself wondering what their later years would have been like.

While my feelings on the Kennedys and Malcolm X are conflicted (I admire both, but am also aware of their shortcomings), I can’t help but believe that a world in which King was still alive would be unquestionably better off. People often debate over whether Kennedy would have been a good president had he not been assassinated, and sure enough for every Cuban Missile Crisis there is a Bay of Pigs Invasion. But King seems to be largely still untainted. So often, today’s most prominent feelings are those of apathy and cynicism. Life seems to have become a spectator event: if King had been killed in today’s world, how long before he would’ve been given the John Paul treatment and become the subject of a made-for-TV movie? Or two?

It was looking back at those old news clips that made me realize why I felt such appeal towards King: calling him a “commanding” figure is an understatement. The man had not merely charisma, but Presence. Gravitas. In a college essay class, I read aloud a portion of one of his essays, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Even in his written words, you can feel the power of his presence as surely as if you had stuck a fork in an electrical socket. The section I read aloud ran:

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

When you read it aloud, you don’t have the liberty of stopping for a breath any more than blacks had the liberty of stopping their persecution. The very air presses in upon you—you can feel King’s anger and frustration in all its dizzying array.

The awesome power of King’s unswerving conviction drives this feeling; taking a moral stance on segregation and racism is not a matter of choice, but one of necessity. Such moral absolutism seems impossible in today’s climate of political correctness. Here was a man who so strongly believed in the righteousness of his cause that he was willing to not only submit to physical and mental abuse at the hands of police and segregationists, but to be imprisoned for no better reason than the color of his skin. I get this disturbing feeling that today we’d have to look at both sides of the issue because, after all, racists are people too.

Of course, the battle for civil rights is far from over. I am constantly shocked to hear arguments, from blacks and whites alike, that the civil rights struggle in the ’60s and today’s controversy over the rights of gays to marry are completely different. In the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Or, if you prefer your philosophy in muppet form: “No. No different. Only different in your mind.” The charge against gay marriage is lead largely by religious groups, who claim that the act is unnatural and immoral. Some things never change—”Letter from a Birmingham Jail” itself is addressed to a group of white clergymen who opposed King’s non-violent protests. He writes: “I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership” and: “So often [the church] is an archdefender of the status quo.” “Perhaps”, he continues, “I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.” If it weren’t so apoplexy-inducing, I would find it pitiable that so many religious organizations have not learned from events so recent it’s hard to term them history.

Given that so many people seem to have forgotten Dr. King’s teachings (not to mention the way they constantly misinterpret the teachings of the very person on whom their religion was patterned), it would seem we couldn’t help but be better off if King were still alive today. Society needs the example of a walking, talking, living person like King more than it needs a TV special, textbook chapter, or federal holiday. I hope that such an example will emerge, but perhaps Dr. King would reprimand me on that point, reminding me that “Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.” In the end, I suppose it’s up to each of us to try and be that person, to whatever extent we can.

The Geek Olympics

I don’t know much about the MIT Mystery Hunt, to be honest. I know that it’s an event in which teams figure out the rules to a series of puzzles, and then the solutions to those puzzles are clues for bigger puzzles, and then eventually some team figures out all the puzzles and is in charge of planning next year’s hunt. I probably don’t need to describe it further, as I suspect that most people who read this blog actually live in Massachusetts and played on Lake Effect Snow (a team name that baffles me only because I have no idea why it was chosen). Long story short, you hunt for mysteries. Also, I kind of like that you’d be hard pressed to come up with an event that sounds nerdier than “The MIT Mystery Hunt.” Here’s to hoping that next year it’ll be “The MIT Mystery Hunt (now with DRAGONS!)”

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Close Encounters of the Steve Kind

I joked with Jason just yesterday about whether or not I would be able to get a picture with Steve Jobs (you know how I feel about him). This morning, as I was descending the escalators, having just finished my previous post, I looked down to see none other than Steve himself, surrounded by an entourage.

I managed to get even closer as we entered the exhibit halls, somehow ending up inside the perimeter of his security. It certainly occurred to me to ask him for a handshake, but he was deeply engrossed in a conversation with some elderly gentleman. Paul Otellini, the Intel CEO was close by his side as well. I grabbed another close picture, after which Steve noticed me and we exchanged a smile and a nod.

Wandered around the floor for a little while, trying to get to the Apple booth, but it was totally packed. You could tell from the supernova of flashes that Steve was still about, and I found myself face-to-face with him again. This time I managed to read the badge on the elderly gentleman…which made me glad I had not interrupted them, as it turned out to be Andy Grove.

Hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, indeed. More to come.

The Anticipation is Killing You

This lovely Tuesday morning finds me in San Francisco at Macworld Expo. They’ve just opened the doors to the exhibit halls, and people are flooding in. I did not, sadly, make it into the Keynote proper, but I did watch it live in one of the overflow room, with a thousand of my closest strangers. I took several pages of stream of consciousness notes, which you can read here, and I’m sure I’ll have some commentary later today.

Short Music Review: Ladytron

Ladytron’s first album, 604, is what I thought music was supposed to sound like in the future back when I was growing up in the ’80s. Their second album, Light and Magic, is decent, but I found it kind of disappointing—a little too much “electronica/dance” and not enough “electroclash,” as far as I was concerned. Their newest album, The Witching Hour, has neat cover art and makes me appreciate the band more. Some of the reviews on Amazon feel that Ladytron is trying to hard to sound like other bands, even that the new album is “less electroclash and more punky which is certainly a bad thing.” That reviewer complains that the new album isn’t an evolution in new wave revival, but “a change in style.” I don’t know how to characterize the new album, exactly—it’s got a little more of a rock sound to it than it did before, less of a dance sound, anyway—but I’m glad the band decided to try something new, because we don’t need another new wave revival album. I’m thinking that this album sounds like what I thought music was supposed to sound like in the future after hearing 604.

Screw Graphic Design

Sometimes I love graphic design. Sometimes I can’t help talking about it, though I wonder if my friends care about what the AIGA name change or the Red Cross’s logo concerns matter to anyone. Sometimes, though, I don’t love graphic design. I want to smack graphic design for being so stupid, so self-important, so willfully ignorant of anything that really matters to anyone.

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I ♥ Being a Jerk, Sometimes

I often find it pretty ridiculous when people sue over trademark infringement. (Not always, but often.) I hear the New York Tourism Board is pretty big on this, suing small businesses left and right for infringing upon their “I ♥ New York” logo designed by Milton Glaser. Personally, I think that this trademark has already been diluted beyond repair, as the whole “I ♥ [whatever]” phrase has pretty widely entered general textual lexicon, been used on countless t-shirts without permission, and has even been co-opted with the “”I ♥ Big Macs,” my distaste for this odd turn in identity marketing trumps my distaste for senseless litigation. That is why I went to the Official New York State Tourism Web Site” to notify the board of this infringement. I doubt anyone will get sued, but I had a strange urge to narc on McDonald’s with an anonymous tip to a tourism board, and I’m pretty sure I can’t get in trouble for that.