Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sam Thinks He Can . . .Lighten Up

Gongxi facai (gong shee fa tsai)! Or, for my Cantonese-speaking friends, 恭喜发财 (gung hay fat choi)!

I am a sucker for New Year celebrations. I've wanted to spend New Year's Eve in Las Vegas since watching the first Ocean's 11 on television shortly after its release in the early sixties. I love the family traditions of Judaism's Rosh Hashanah in the fall. And, as we enter the Year of the Rat, I am fascinated by the idea that 1.3
billion celebrate their new year on a twelve-year cycle whose elements are used to prophesize health, wealth and marital success (although that might just be the menus).

I was chatting online tonight with my friend Nathaniel Davis, whom regular readers of this blog will remember. He's back in Beijing, where, for the first time, fireworks were allowed as part of the New Year celebration. Although the holiday started on the 7th of February, the fireworks are still being lit. I can only imagine what the Olympics will bring in 6 short months.

This annual focus on Chinese culture inevitably takes me back to my visit to Hong Kong and Macau in October, 2000. Having had the opportunity to experience a small slice of the culture firsthand, and with a number of good friends living among the 1.3 billion, I feel a stronger affinity with the Chinese New Year than towards most other international celebrations. Of course, I regularly relive the experience through my photography.

The photo above was taken on Victoria Peak, overlooking Hong Kong and Kowloon Harbor. It's actually a sandwich of two square images taken on my medium format film camera.Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version. I had dragged two camera systems and a tripod up to the observation area. I was with my law school roommate Robert Cohen and Nathaniel. It was hot, even at dusk. I was looking for my "money shot" for the trip, hence the plethora of equipment. The views were spectacular. Most of the other visitors had ridden the famous tram up the side of the mountain to get there. We had taken a cab to the site. I remember that the sun was setting, I was losing my light, and I couldn't get a decent reading off my light meter to figure out the correct exposure. So, in the tradition of Luke Skywalker, I abandoned my electronic devices and used the "Force". I think that's why I love the shot so much. I was so close not to getting it but did so by relying on myself.

We took the tram down part way to return to the city. We exited at one of the first stops and walked down hill the rest of the way. Because it was HOT, and because I insisted on carrying all of my equipment by myself on the theory that if I personally carried what I brought along, I could sound like a martyr seven years later, we had to stop and rest. Nathaniel brought us to a courtyard in the St. John's Monastery. I was walking around a bit, looking for photo opportunities. Much to my amazement, the second lifetime opportunity of the evening presented itself.

I had spent the week looking for examples of the old juxtaposed against the new. I had expected to find some quaint, centuries old example of Chinese culture set against an icon of the modern Hong Kong. I had not been particularly successful in capturing the image that filled my mind's eye. But during the break on the way down from the Peak, I found myself staring at the modern glass skyscraper of the Bank of China, gleaming at night through the monastery's stone archway leading to the courtyard. I set up my medium format camera, guessed at the exposure, and shot.
I was happy enough with the shot to use give it to one of my hosts during the trip as a gesture of my appreciation. She was apparently thrilled with the gift and reciprocated, unnecessarily, with a set of gold Chinese stamp proofs.

In honor of the Chinese New Year, I'm posting a few additional shots from that trip. I'll resume more serious blogging once the fireworks stop. Again, 恭喜发财 !

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sam Thinks He Can . . . Endorse Barak Obama

I’m interrupting the completion and posting of my half-written blog describing the joys and frustrations of the practice of law to discuss the transformation that started when I attended Barak Obama’s rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis yesterday. The transformation was complete this morning as I did my chores in the barn. As I cleaned stalls, tossed hay bales from the hayloft, filled grain buckets and played with one of the cats who shadowed me throughout over the course of an hour, I weighed the pros and cons of supporting either Obama or Clinton.

I had ventured to the Target Center on Saturday curious to see and hear the well-spoken, inspirational Senator from Illinois. I was leaning strongly towards supporting Senator Clinton, believing that she was the more experienced of the two and in a better position to lead the country from the outset of her administration. I expected, frankly, to be moved by the message of Senator Obama and by the collective passion of the 20,000 others who came to support this relative newcomer. As an American History major, I am cognizant of the sea change both the Clinton and Obama candidacies represent. However, I told myself that the decision on who to support had to be rooted in something more than being caught up in the emotion of great speech making.

The encounter did not begin well. I had been invited to the event by my son Phil, whose significant other, Molly, had picked up tickets at Obama headquarters in Duluth. Six of us packed into my five passenger car and arrived at the Target Center an hour ahead of the announced 1:30 start time. In fact, 1:30 turned out to be the scheduled “doors open” time. We were directed to the end of the line, which at the time stretched around the Target Center, across the street, past the site of the new Twins ballpark to a point across from the large garbage burner. Throngs of ticket holders walked past us continuously for the nearly two hours we stood in place, freezing, adding to the end of the line. Initially, Phil was blown away by the significance of the turnout. After about an hour standing in below freezing weather without a jacket, he joined me in my observation that the rally was poorly organized and disrespectful to those who had expected to be waiting inside to see the Senator. I considered leaving the line several times, figuring I’d go wait in a bar while the “kids” stuck it out. I didn’t. I persevered, and was rewarded with the most inspiring oratory I’ve listened to since my former college professor, Paul Wellstone, left us.

I like to think that I’m as informed as most of the general electorate when it comes to politics. But as I sat listening to Senator Obama for an hour Saturday afternoon, I realized that there is a big difference between 15-second sound bites on the news, or even extended answers during debates among front runners, and an uninterrupted discourse on a candidate’s background, positions and hopes for the future. I walked out of the Target Center, having lost my ill-temper at being forced to suffer the cold for hours in order to add to the campaign’s bragging rights on the evening news, and thought about all the reasons I had been previously unwilling to commit to Senator Obama. The six of us discussed the event on the ride back to everyone’s vehicles. As the oldest participant in the discussion by at least 30 years, I was struck by my companions’ yearning for leadership, honesty, and direction. The Senator’s proposals on tuition reduction in exchange for community service and funding a “health care” system to replace our nation’s “disease care” system seemed self evident and, significantly, possible in an Obama administration.

Shortly after telling a friend that I had been at the rally, I received an e-mail from her son, a Harvard law student who has been supporting Senator Obama for some time. He asked for my reaction and directed me to

At this point, I’d like you to select “new window” or “new tab” under the File menu in your browser and navigate to Watch the video and return here when you’re done. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. It doesn’t matter who you’re supporting, you have to admit the video is incredibly moving, inspiring and hopeful. I probably watched it four times. Each view wore down my resistance to making a commitment to Senator Obama. This morning, after considerable reflection during barn chores, my resistance gave way completely. I’ve decided to caucus for Barak Obama.

It’s too late to make a long story short, but stay with me and I’ll walk you through my reasoning and how I internally addressed my prior obstacles to supporting Senator Obama.

• I had believed Senator Clinton is more experienced. Actually, I still believe that. If Hillary Clinton becomes our next president and is given the opportunity by her die-hard opponents to bring us together and do her job, we’ll be well-served. However, I’ve decided Senator Obama is experienced enough. As his supporters have long argued, he’ll surround himself with competent advisers who share his agenda. Probably. More importantly, unlike you and me, he is experienced enough to have turned a fluke win against a replacement opponent in his Senate race four years ago into a national movement of historic significance.

• We need a Democratic candidate who will not energize the opposition and risk allowing the GOP to retain the White House. The type of experience Senator Clinton brings to the table also brings baggage. While I firmly believe Senator Clinton can hold her own in responding to the right wing conspiracy she identified more than 10 years ago, I’ve started asking myself whether it’s the best use of our chief executive’s time to have to deal day in and day out with orchestrated character assassination. I believe Senator Obama’s message of reconciliation will translate into less divisiveness and less tolerance of those who would thwart the electorate’s longing to return to more civil times.

• I didn’t think an African American could win the general election. While, unfortunately, racism in the United States remains rampant, I have decided that the enthusiasm Senator Obama’s supporters bring to the race will outweigh and, pun intended, overcome the challenges posed by myopic, emotionally and mentally challenged crackers.

• I question Senator Obama’s commitment to Israel. This issue is still open and derives mostly from anecdotal observations by friends in Chicago who have paid more attention to the Senator’s career than I have. The issue is important to me and I’ve decided that whoever is elected president will have to sustain the United State’s support for Israel’s right to exist. This is an issue that will, hopefully, have the benefit of the competent advisors referred to above who will not abandon our support for the Middle East’s only democracy.

• I fear for the life of an African American president. This generally unspoken concern is shared by almost everyone I speak to. Hearkening back to the cracker problem, and coupled with the pessimism that goes along with having lived through losing John, Bobby and Martin, there is a perception that an African American president is a more likely assassination target. Privately, everyone agrees. Publicly, nothing is said. Senator Obama’s security is already tighter than other candidates' according to sources who have had the opportunity to experience “meet and greets” with more than one candidate. I pray that increased security will be enough security. Prayer in and of itself might not have gotten me over this hurdle. What did take me over the hurdle was a thought that came to me as I was tossing hay bales this morning. Senator Obama is obviously well aware of the risks to his safety. If he’s willing to take those risks in order work on our behalf and make a difference, who the hell am I to say “no”? It would do a great disservice to the candidate’s courage for me to withhold support because of some condescending attitude about protecting his safety.

• I believed Senator Clinton had earned the right to run for president and, as the father of a daughter, welcomed the shattering of the glass ceiling. I still believe that Senator Clinton has earned the right to run and still welcome the ascendancy of real equality between the sexes. But I also believe that Senator Obama’s success in uniting our country’s young, old, white, black, brown, Democrat, Republican and Independent voters has also earned him the right to seek the presidency. I believe that an Obama administration will welcome and utilize the talent of women in all levels of government. I also believe that the success Senator Clinton’s candidacy has enjoyed, and the general acceptance of the concept of a “Madam President”, means that qualified women will not be precluded from playing with the boys from now on.

In summary, If elected president, to use an analogy I’ve become fond of, Hillary Clinton will be the extremely competent CEO, drawing on years of experience to manage the affairs of government. On the other hand, Barak Obama will be the visionary chairman of the board, directing our country’s resources and empowering its citizens to save us all from the disasters wrought on every level over the past seven years. We need that kind of visionary leader. We need to be inspired. We need to believe that government can work again. We need to unite behind a healer. We need a president who speaks with moral authority and who can restore our reputation in the world. We can elect such a president. We can elect Barak Obama to be our next president. Yes, we can!

I ask you all to support, vote and/or caucus for Senator Barak Obama.

P.S. “CHANGE”. I was determined to write this blog without using the word. Once I got to the end, I, um, modified, amended, altered, adjusted, changed my mind.