Friday, September 28, 2007

Livin' in the Future

Cross-posted on "Home of the Free."
This is not a column about Bruce Springsteen. It is not a review about his soon to be released album “Magic” or an endorsement thereof. Indeed, I have never been a Springsteen fan. It’s not that I dislike the man or his music; I just never understood the hype.

Perhaps I wasn’t listening close enough.

Springsteen and the entire E Street Band performed on NBC’s Today Show this morning, “on the plaza,” like so many other performers who are promoting… something. A new album or a tour usually, but sometimes it is something more. As big as the Today Show gig is, Springsteen certainly doesn’t need NBC’s help selling records or tickets.

Among the characteristics many associate with Springsteen, patriotism has to be right up there. He is as American as apple pie and Chevrolet. Although he has made political statements in his music in the past, this album takes the gloves off. When introducing “Livin’ in the Future,” a track from his new album, Springsteen makes the following statement while the E Street Bland plays a soft prelude:

“This is a song called ‘Livin’ in the Future,’ but it’s really about what’s happening now. Right now! The things that we love about America like cheeseburgers and french fries and the Yankees battling Boston... the Bill of Rights, V-twin motorcycles… We love all these things. However, in the past six years, we’ve had to add to the American picture: Rendition; illegal wiretapping; voter suppression; no habeas corpus; neglect of our great city New Orleans and her people; attacks on the Constitution and the loss of our best young men and women in a tragic war.”

More than just a list of gripes, Springsteen goes on with his own call to action.

“Right now we plan to do something about it. We plan to sing about it. I know it’s early, but it’s late. So come and join us.”

It is interesting that his last album with the E Street band, “The Rising,’ was released in 2002 - just before the junior Bush’s war in Iraq. It is probably safe to say Springsteen doesn’t need the money and equally safe to say that he did not need to produce a new album to sell out a tour. No, it is clear there is something else he needed to do. He needed to exercise his first amendment right to freedom of speech - before it too has been swallowed up by a fear-mongering, power-hungry and arrogant administration. More than a right, it is likely that Springsteen views it as a responsibility.

The chorus from “Livin’ in the Future” warns, “We're livin' in the future. And none of this has happened yet.” It’s an ominous message and a thread that runs throughout the entire album.

So often the arts have been the conduit for political change. So many artists have been the victims of suppression, exile and and many have paid for their activism with their lives. In America our right to vocalize our disagreement or even our disenchantment with the government is guaranteed by the Constitution - but as Springsteen points out, so are so many other rights that are slowly being eroded by our government.

They call him the “Boss,” a moniker I have always taken issue with - my reply always, “He’s not my Boss.” But in this case at least, I’ll take heed of his message. His values, when it comes to nationalism… to constitutionalism, are absolutely mine.

He asks some very pointed questions. Today, I am listening.

Monday, September 24, 2007

18 Months Nicotine-Free!

I quit smoking 18 months ago today. It wasn't easy, but it was so worth it. At $5 per pack, one pack per day for 549 days, I have saved about $2,745. The best part is that I am no longer a slave to the master nicotine.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NCLB - Misplaced Loyalty

Cross-posted on "Home of the Free."

Our Constitution leaves to the individual states those powers not specifically designated to the federal government. Although hierarchical supremacy always goes to federal law, there are certain limitations on federal authority that is supposed to be left to the states. However, through a number of means - typically by holding money over the states’ heads - the federal government does influence state law.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is an attempt to control the educational curriculum that has been historically decided at the state level. Although the feds cannot mandate anything regarding curriculum, it can coerce financially strapped state educational institutions with the lure of cash. There is something inherently disingenuous about the federal government collecting taxes from the residents of the various states, ostensibly to be used to run the federal government, only to give it back to the states with strings attached. Unfortunately, this is not at all uncommon in this day and age.

Perhaps if the money were to be used to forward legitimate scholastic goals only, the ends might, perhaps, justify the means. And let us assume that NCLB was created and born of the purest of motives and, further, that the procedures are universally agreed upon and accepted as the best curriculum for all students nationwide. Yes, let’s just suspend all skepticism and grant that such a universal standard actually exists and that the feds have stumbled upon it. And just to add the icing to this unbelievably utopian cake, let us presume that the act has been fully funded and supported by those who championed it. Let’s just say that NCLB has been all it could be…

Then what about section 9528? The section’s heading reads:


The following 297 words buried within the 670-page document codify exactly what its title says. Apparently, NCLB would have our kids be all they can be as well. No access to the students’ names and numbers - no money. Although there is an “opt out” clause, often parents find recruiters have their children’s information only after it is too late, if they find out at all. The recruiter calls in the afternoon, after school is out but before many parents are usually home from work. I am not, however, “many” parents.

I was home when the calls came for my 17 year-old son. The caller ID said “private number,” but when anyone calls on a phone that I pay the bill on, I ask who is calling. There was only one place the information could have come from, but I asked the recruiters anyway just to confirm my suspicion. As it turns out, they were more forthcoming and better informed than the San Juan Unified School District was. Eventually, after many calls, the district’s legal department informed me that they were merely complying with federal law - as though they had no choice. Although it is true that NCLB is a federal law, it is misleading to imply that the district somehow has no choice.

On page 45 of the 2007-2008 Parent Handbook, there is a short paragraph that states federal law permits the access to this information and that parents may opt out - in writing - to Pupil Personnel Services. There is no contact name, no department phone number or address listed. Had I not been home when the recruiters called, I would have never known. The district contends there is a federal law it must comply with - it doesn’t. In fact, although there are certain procedures that must be followed or else the money is yanked, there are no provisions in case the feds renege on their deal; they want compliance even when they won’t fully fund the act.

It is understandable that schools are after every dollar they can get and it is no surprise that the feds would try to regulate - through creative means - anything they can, but it is dismaying that the district would roll over so easily. NCLB offers an opt-out clause, but it doesn’t say how loudly it is to be announced. The San Juan Unified School District chose to burry the information in a place that parents are not likely to find it.

The district has perhaps forgotten where its loyalty lies - and where the vast majority of its money comes from. The opt-out provision of NCLB should be made a priority. It should be a proactive announcement and not a few words buried in a slew of parental reading passed out at the beginning of the year. The recruitment provision goes well beyond any legitimate educational goal and in practice it circumvents the influence a parent has on molding his or her child’s future. The district has a responsibility to give the parent back the first word - and it can do it without risking any NCLB money.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Home of the Free

A new blog has been added to the family here at The 25 Year Plan. The new site, Home of the Free, has been formed to fulfill a requirement of Journalism 131 - column writing - at Sacramento State. Although this class is not required for a degree (it could be an elective, however, that requirement has already been met twice over), it is very much an area of intense personal interest. The blog will contain the output - the actual columns -written for this class. There will be a blogroll containing links to the professor’s site and to the student blogs in the class.

Each student must have a theme or “specialty” that is to be adhered to throughout the semester. Although there are a number of special interest areas or hobbies that were considered for Home of the Free, the scope of each appeared to be far too narrow to be able to produce new material on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. There is a common unifying thread, however, in many opinions represented within those interests - the acts of a meddling government.

The “nanny state” is a real concern, especially in light of the (still) recent attacks on the United States. At what point do civil liberties give way to security? It’s an age-old debate that precedes the founding of this country by many years. Obviously, some government is necessary to ensure that the state doesn’t send our lives into Hobbesian anarchy - “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But where do we draw the line - and who should decide? Although there is a direction to this theme and a host of issues to apply within it, the words have no yet been written. There are only the wisps of thought, still fluid and nowhere near set in stone.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has frequented this place that words often reveal new ideas once exposed in print. Although there are some fairly defined ideals that will come to this new blog, the actual finished opinions might not follow conventional wisdom. However, with the research necessary to support them, the ideas might just represent or require a new convention. Home of the Free is a course requirement first and foremost, but hopefully it will inspire thought. Feel free to agree or disagree and please visit some of the other sites linked there. It’s new and it’s fresh and some of these students might even be future syndicated columnists.

You read it here first.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First-Person Pronouns...

Although being busy is certainly not a new experience, these next several days may just redefine what it actually means to be busy. In addition to the time and effort that goes into maintaining a household, the full-time class schedule needed to complete a final semester of undergraduate studies and the occasional freelance writing assignment - now there is a little matter of studying for the rapidly approaching Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). It is this last factor that has adversely impacted an already tight time schedule. It will, for the next twenty or so days, mean sacrificing some enjoyable but decidedly optional activities.

And blogging, at least on this blog, is the first to go. This, the 281st post to appear here, represents the beginning of a hiatus, however temporary, for new postings on this blog. Actually, there will be one more in the next day or two and therein lies a silver lining of sorts. Among the classes that contribute to this acute shortage of time is one that was not required per se, but is part of the semester’s coursework all the same. A much esteemed, long-time journalism professor at Sacramento State teaches Journalism 131 - and he is very fond of blogs as a teaching tool. Like his magazine writing class last semester, a new blog (actually several - one for each class member) will soon be created for his column writing class.

This particular professor comes from the school of thought where one learns best by doing. Of course, instruction will be given, but that element does not constitute the vast majority of time required for this class. Most of the time expended will be in the form of writing, the results of which will be published on a blog to be created in the very near future. Once established, it will be announced right here on this site - and then this site will become virtually dormant - for a while. It is therefore somewhat misleading to say that blogging will be eliminated in the interest of time. It will, however, have a new purpose. So what does this mean?

The new blog will be a series of closely defined columns within a particular theme that will be held throughout the semester. Other assignments might also require posting, but the primary purpose for the blog is to publish real columns in real time - using live ammunition, as it were. Although the theme or specialization of this new blog has not yet been absolutely defined, there is a very good chance it will be political in nature with perhaps some characteristic that will more closely define it’s scope within this broad category. One thing is certain, deadlines being what they are in class as in the real world, by this time tomorrow, it will be known.

Many of the previous 280 posts that have been published here could be defined as columns and some of those are political commentary. However, it has been so without any formal training and as such, certain rules and techniques have not been strictly adhered to. Some of these were known and ignored while others were (and some likely still are) not yet discovered. One such has been put into practice here. There is not one single first-person pronoun in any of the preceding 529 words. Although there will be a host of other restrictions that will be imposed on the new blog that have not been applied here, it is unlikely that the frequency of or the enjoyment derived from blogging will be affected in any significant way once the new blog gains prominence.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Life is Good

Sometimes I feel a little guilty. Not to the extent that I would allow it to ruin my day or even part of it, but I still face skepticism and that in turn fuels a little bit of guilt. I have this extremely positive outlook on life. It is a new outlook - a new perspective - and I would contend that I came by it the hard way, but it can be summed up in one word - positive. Some people either don’t believe it is real - for some reason I am making it up, or that I am somehow deluded - I only think that I am happy… or perhaps they are, to some degree, envious. I don’t know, but one of the many reasons I write about it is to share that it is possible - there is hope.

It seems that human nature drives us toward the negative. Indeed, Rush Limbaugh, of all people, makes a good point (he actually has made several if one can wade through the conservative rhetoric). There are no books on the market that give instruction on how to be miserable. Why? Because we already know how to do that. There are, however, literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of self-help books, guides to meditation and enlightenment, holistic paths to wellness and other well-meaning guides to inner peace. I have read a few and they all have some virtue.

But there were no magic words. There is no quick fix - and those who knew me not too long ago know that I was into finding the shortest path from A to C… just as long as it didn’t pass through B. The problem with instant gratification is that it only lasts for an instant. Then it’s back to reality and seeking that utopian sense of peace and harmony through some kind of osmosis. It has taken me many painful years to realize that there are many ways to get “there,” and that the path we take is what it’s all about… it’s always and forever the same “there.”

Someone once told me I can’t think my way into right living, I must live my way into right thinking. In other words, I can know as much as humanly possible, but until I put what I know into action, nothing changes. And if nothing changes, then nothing changes. Time takes time, and it comes in these convenient little 24-hour chunks. The progress I have experienced over the past five years of my life is unprecedented, yet not once was there a moment where I thought, “I’ll sure be glad when I get to…” I have been trying very hard to stay in the moment and now as I look back, I can see the progress - but that is not the reward.

The prize is realized every day. The peace I experience even through adversity is all I ever wanted. I just wanted to be happy - that’s all. I thought that would come when I got certain “things” in my life, yet I acquired a great many of those things and my inner peace was still just as random as a pinball. I thought it might be achieved through status, but again that was only window dressing and my happiness proved to be fleeting. It was not until I finally found acceptance and came to grips with living life as it comes that I was able to gain a new perspective on life.

It has not gone unnoticed by those close to me. Happiness begets happiness and I attract into my life those who are happy or are struggling to be happy. Recently my father sent me a T-shirt that he picked up while shopping at REI. He wasn’t shopping for me, but he ran across this T-shirt that he felt epitomized what my life resembles today. It is probably safe to say that it is an unarticulated value he had tried to instill in me years before. For a variety of reasons that are no longer important, it took me 40 years to get it. I had not heard of this particular line of clothing - this business - prior, but I recently looked it up. It is a story that sings to me.

The founders have a strikingly similar attitude towards life as I do. They have this positive spin on life that is apparently infectious. Their business has grown into an $80 million company with virtually no advertising. Perhaps the founders, Bert and John Jacobs are lying. Maybe they are somehow deluded. Perhaps other not-so-successful companies are envious. But for them and me and many others who strive for it, three little words, the name of their company, says it all:

Life is Good.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Call Them Chicago

One of my earliest favorite bands appeared at the California State Fair last night. Not only was I was looking forward to hearing Chicago live for the first time, I also planned to take as many photos as my camera’s memory would allow. I already had my media credential and I expected that, like the Tesla concert that opened the Fair, I would be allowed access to get some good close-ups. It saddens me to say that I was thoroughly disappointed on all counts.

Upon arrival, I was admitted to the reserved seating area. It was about an hour before the scheduled show time and I wanted to check my angles, pre-compose my shots and dial in my camera settings. So far, so good, but after about 15 minutes, I was approached by security personnel and told that I would not be able to remain where I was without a credential from the band. Ok, where do I get such a credential? “At the media center,” I am told. Fine, off to the media center I go.

And the people manning the media center have no idea what I’m talking about. They explained that I needed to talk to the band’s promoter. Of course, they were unavailable. So I’m relegated to the general admission area… and my lens was just long enough to get some halfway decent shots from there… if I could have stayed there. Again security told me I had to move back. When I asked how far, the security supervisor relayed my question via radio. The response, ostensibly “from the band” was “about 150 miles away.” Nothing like reaching out to embrace the media!

I ended up by the mixing board, much too far to get anything worthwhile. Around the entrances to the seating areas were signs warning that video and audio recording devices were prohibited. This is not an unusual request, but barring media the way this band did was more than just a little over the top. Then came an in-between songs announcement from Robert Lamm, one of the original band members:

I know you all have your audio recorders and you video cameras and your... cameras. And your cell phones. I want you all to take them out right now and take pictures of us, take pictures of yourselves… and I want you all to put them up on YouTube.

I didn’t have my digital audio recorder with me, so the preceding is paraphrased, but that is the essence of what he said. I don’t know if I sufficiently captured the sarcasm that oozed from his statement, however, especially in light of the signs so prominently posted at every entrance. Combined with what can only be described as an antagonistic relationship with the press, I can only draw one conclusion. And today, after snooping around the band’s official website, I find that they invite photographers to send their photos of the band so that they might be featured, fully accredited, on their website. Color my world confused.

Ah, but what about the music? Was it wonderful? Did it move me like I knew it would? Maybe it would have, had I stayed long enough. They came on about 10 minutes late and proceeded to play their newer stuff; the stuff that has met with so much commercial indifference; the stuff that nobody really cared about. When they finally did get to the classic Chicago, it just stunk. Yea, it stunk, sorry. I know there were thousands of their legions cheering the band on. I know that they were truly surprised and pleased that so many were in attendance. I also know they stunk. Ok, they were competent musically. They were fairly tight (not, however, even close to what I have experienced from many other “professionals”), but they had a job to do and in my humble opinion, they failed miserably.

I walked out after about 30 minutes. They had a little more than an hour left from what was allotted to them - and they might have delivered in that time, but they failed to set the hook - I was gone. I won’t be back - not unless I’m with an organization that can navigate their “rules.” And then it will be strictly business. Chicago has been around a long time. On their website, their story spans 13 chapters, the last is titled, “Call Them Chicago.” A fitting title considering the only thing that resembles the band in its heyday is the name.