Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Invisible Mirror

Digital cameras, webcams, and smartphones have changed the way we interact with each other. We now take instant photos of our food and post them for the world to see. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are must have apps which are used for daily recording of our lives. You can literally view someone's entire day from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Everything is on camera.

But hit the pause button for now and think about the implications. We've become so accustomed to putting ourselves on camera that we've become numb to when the camera is out of our control. What do I mean you ask? Well, if you've shopped in a store, bought coffee in a Starbucks, or pumped gas today then you were on camera. Parking lots have cameras. ATMs have cameras. Workplaces have cameras. Churches have cameras. Crowds are observed on camera at sporting events. In a growing number of cities streets and intersections have cameras that capture images of pedestrians and vehicles. And last but not least, Google has used satellites to film where you are currently sitting right now. If you use Google+ they are inside your home too.

 We have become conditioned to being observed, willingly or not. Webcams are being hacked and digital pirates can watch you whenever they want (so put that away) and you wouldn't even know. The apps I mentioned before require you to give up your rights to control your smartphone camera or tablet camera (read the permissions carefully the next time you download an app). While you never want to promote conspiracy theories or dwell in the land of paranoia, you should take a moment and become more aware of the little bites of privacy that you willingly give away.

One of the best Sci-Fi movies of all time (ok, I'm not a big Sci-Fi fan) is THX 1138, the classic by George Lucas from 1971. The movie shows the extreme boundaries of constant surveillance and was prescient in it's exploration of today's pharmaceutical drug culture. Visually stunning, it holds up today and you should check it out when you have time. And there is a really cool scene filmed in a BART tunnel that was under construction!

I'm not immune to the good aspects of instant video and I use my camera all the time. But its ok to be cautious and unplug the camera from time to time. Big Brother may not be focused on you yet, but the infrastructure is being built and the switch could be flipped soon.

Monday, September 2, 2013

President Obama's iPod!

President Obama has always displayed his love and appreciation of good music. From time to time you've seen stories in the media about his favorite tunes and the contents of his iPod. Let's hope that he has some Prince music in the shuffle...specifically "Partyup"

U're gonna have to fight ur own damn war!
'Cause we don't wanna fight no more!

Prince "Partyup"

"Partyup" is a potent anti-war bomb that's wrapped up in a chimera of dance-rock brilliance. The lyrics are clear, the intent is defined, and there is no mistake in the message. The song is just one of many in Prince's body of work that stands out aurally but also brings a positive social message with the softness of a brick upside the head. I would provide a link...but you know how Prince you're on your own if you want to listen to it.

For the past couple of weeks President Obama has been drumming on the tom-toms of war. I'm not sure if it's war against Syria...or war with Syria. The past couple of weeks have been humbling for O. Don't get me wrong...I'm still rollin' with the O til the wheels come off...but foreign policy was a strength, up until now. I'm glad he changed his mind and passed the ball to Congress. Serves them right. Secretary of State Kerry has been used as a political stunt dummy, so I hope he gets a copy of the real playbook soon.

Most Americans do not want another war. Period. We don't know, and probably don't care, about the diplomatic/economic/strategic implications of this decision. In fact, it may boil down to how much are we willing to pay for a gallon of gas?  That may be too crass, but not far from the truth. Access to oil and shipping lanes matter. The question is how high is the price to pay for that access? Most would argue, regardless of political affiliation, that its too high.

It may be time for the President to take a few minutes, lay back on the couch, dim the lights, and listen to "Partyup" on his iPod (or his smartphone, who uses an iPod these days?). The words may guide him towards finding peace instead of war.

Here is how deep it is...MSNBC aired a thoughtful and gut wrenching piece the other night on the plight of the million Syrian refugees pouring into Jordan. Hundreds of thousands are under age eleven. Its a full scale human rights saga worthy of the world's attention. Yet, the...very...first...commercial after the story was an ad for Northrup Grumman, one of the largest weapons suppliers in the world.

What was that!? It was a strange message that there are some very large forces out there urging us to go to war in Syria. Iraq it not as profitable as it used to be...and Afghanistan may not drive revenues at the end of the next five year plan. So they're looking for customers, and touting their ability to manufacture drones, the next frontier in military conflicts. They ain't just sellin' to our side...

That's too much to think about. Let me go back to where I started, so I can end this prattle. Prince's "Partyup" is the song that I hope President Obama has on his iPod. Go ahead Mr. President, take a listen, it will help make the decision an easier choice.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

One Week Later...

It's been exactly one week since we dropped off my oldest daughter at college. Nothing can prepare you for this joyful yet sad milestone for our family. As a parent, there is the euphoric buzz of pride in knowing that your child has demonstrated the academic ability to be accepted to multiple colleges across multiple states. She was able to choose where she wanted to go and she is literally controlling her own destiny. There is also pride in knowing that the financial preparations that you made, before she could walk, are bearing fruit. It feels good and you are humbled by the awesome power of God. None of this would have happened without him, and I'm thankful every day that he's blessed us to see this moment.

But there is sadness as well when the reality hits you that she is no longer residing in the confines of your home. It hits you head on and you begin to look into the mirror of your life. While I still feel like the fourteen year old boy I used to be, especially when I'm playing NBA 2K13, I know that the years of my life are adding up. Gray hair is in full effect. I watch sports and the children of players I used to root for are now in the Pros. I'm old enough to have seen Willie Mays play! And now, my own child is living the American dream of college life.

A lot of my friends and co-workers keep asking me "how are you doing?" They want to know if I'm ok and I appreciate their concern. Contrary to the negative media drumbeat about black fathers there are a lot of us out here who are actively involved in raising our children. Nothing to brag about. Its just the truth. Fathers and daughters will always have a special relationship but it wasn't that hard to keep my emotions in check when we finally said goodbye that afternoon. Why? Because earlier that morning before the sun rose I was sitting on my couch in the family room shedding my tears of joy/sadness. So overall, I think I'm doing alright.

We check in a few times per day via text messages and phone calls. She's adapting quite well to the ups and downs of being on your own. As a parent, you want to do everything for your child. But when your child becomes an adult you realize that there are things that they have to do for themselves. Its necessary so that they can learn the lesson of how to make a good decision. In my heart, I know that she'll be just fine. She's prepared for living on her own and we've done a good job laying the critical foundation for her to excel.

The past week has taught me a lot about my daughter, my family, and myself. Its a new era for all of us and through love and determination we will make this transition as smooth as possible.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why We Love Football - Kickoff 2013

Pre-season NFL action is in full swing and die-hard fans can't wait until the real season begins in a few weeks. What is it about the NFL that attracts millions of people to tune in every week of the season? Why do fans, like me, become so addicted to the pageantry and spectacle of the NFL? Here are five reasons:

  1. Colors: Each team has a unique identity that's instantly recognizable by rabid fans. Whether its the hallowed Silver & Black of the Raiders, the deep Purple & White of the Vikings, or the iconic Aqua & Orange of the Dolphins, NFL fans are attached visually to the teams that they cheer for. Connection through color is reflected in the painted toenails, iPhone cases, and other self expressed manners of NFL fans. While every player on the field wears a helmet, cleats, and pads, what makes them different are the colors on their uniforms. The Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines color as "...a phenomenon  of light (as red, brown, pink, or gray) or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects...". Personally, I'm more than partial to the Red & Gold of my beloved Niners. 
  2. Drama: NFL games that are competitive are truly must see TV. A tipped ball, fumble, or penalty in a hotly contested game can lead to severe heart palpitations for viewers. In less than a second the emotional fortunes of fans can go from euphoria to despair.
    All fans have been sucked down the elevator shaft of a painful loss. Niner Fans experienced it after last season's Super Bowl. Raider fans still reflect on the Tuck Rule game. And if you are a fan of the Buffalo Bills, losers of four straight Super Bowls in the 1990's, well, I know that you are still  hurting. Drama and aftermath are key elements in our addiction to the game. 
  3. Stars: Successful NFL Players become highly visible marketing machines that line the coffers of corporate America. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the mega stars of the league become idolized demi-gods embedded on our cultural psyche. Peyton Manning is on just about every commercial during the season. Years ago, that valuable space was held by none other than O.J. Simpson who at one time was one of the most admired men in America. Go figure. Here in the Bay Area everybody is koo koo for Kaepernick,the Niner's young superstar quarter back. 300 days ago he wasn't even starting for the Niners. Today, his jersey is the hottest selling jersey in the league. The NFL knows how to create stars and that is another reason for our addiction.
  4. Sacrifice: Fans feel great after a win. We high five each other and talk smack the next day at work. We don't really think about the physical sacrifice that the players put themselves through every Sunday. Injuries are real and can be catastrophic to the young men who fly around the field with such great abandon. Here is a typical example of one team's injury list after a regular season game last year: sprained knee, pulled groin, torn hamstring, neck sprain, dislocated finger, and hip contusion. This team played sixteen games last year so you can speculate that the team suffered about ninety-six injuries during the year. There are thirty-two teams in the league, and each one had about the same amount which equates to approximately 3,072 injuries during an average season. The men of the NFL truly leave it all on the field, body and spirit. Why are we attracted to that? Because of big hits! The violent clashes around the ball keeps us glued to the set. Is this attraction a holdover from some primitive need for blood sport? Probably. 
  5. Gambling: It's no secret. NFL fans love to gamble on the sport. CNBC estimates that $80 - $100 billion dollars are bet illegally each year on NFL games. According the the Nevada Gaming Commission another $1.1 billion dollars are bet legally on the NFL. That's a LOT of money flowing through the economy. Wagers on NFL games can intensify the drama of an outcome by ten fold. Point spreads are readily available leading up to the game. Parlay cards are common in barber shops and sports bars across America. While the League puts gambling at an arm's distance, and openly lobbies against states that explore allowing legalized gaming, it depends on the subculture of wagering which brings tremendous exposure to the product that they're selling. 

These are some of the reasons that keep the NFL in the pantheon of sports in America. And as the season begins I want to wish all of the fans a successful year for their team, unless they're playing the Niners.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

When The Verdict Stings

I can't say that I was surprised by the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. There is a long and dark history of injustice embedded in the molecules of our democracy. My lack of surprise in no way diminishes the sting of disappointment that I felt when it was announced. A man can literally hunt down a black teenage boy, kill him, and face no consequences for his foolish actions.

I wasn't there that night, so I am in no position to posit on the details and nuances of who confronted who. But something in my gut tells me that activities leading up to the shooting of Trayvon Martin were not initiated by the teen. George Zimmerman deserves no sympathy, compassion, nor any feelings of shared humanity tonight.

As I write this there are people marching in downtown San Francisco. I hope and pray that cooler heads prevail and that no one gets hurt. I understand their anger and there frustration about the verdict. They have every right to protest in the streets.

Being singled out simply because of the way you look has happened to me. It happened years ago on BART when I was about 9 or 10. My older brother, his best friend, and I were on our way to the A's game in Oakland. We got on at the Richmond Station and as soon as the doors of the train opened up at the next stop two BART police got on, looked at us, and beckoned us off the train.

Apparently, someone had been using forged BART tickets that week and I guess we fit the "profile" of who might be using them. Ironically, we'd received the BART tickets from church as  part of a summer program for "youth enrichment". In one brief instant, three nerdy young black boys, who had been recognized by their church, had been reduced to suspects. We had every right to be on that train. But that right had been taken away and we were forced to prove our innocence. It was terrifying.

They had us sit on a bench for about 15 minutes for no reason. One of them left, came back, and then told us we could go on our way. We had been stopped just because of what they thought we represented.  I can still feel the emotional embarrassment of being stared at by the other BART patrons.

Tonight's verdict will sting for a long time.