Let The State Of The Union Ride Off Into The Sunset

I’m not going to lie I decided to watch hockey tonight and follow the State Of The Union on Twitter. Take that for what it’s worth, but despite the Blackhawks looking mediocre, I think it’s been a wise decision.

The State Of The Union must have been a really cool spectacle fifty years ago. Imagine it, the President of the United States getting up in front of the ENTIRE country and telling us what the status quo is and what he’s going to do. Families gathered in front of their television or radio sets and sat and listened! I can’t attest to this since I’m only 25 years old (cue the “you’re a millenial you know nothing get off my internet/lawn!” rhetoric) but from all accounts it was quite a rare phenomena to hear the President address the country.

It’s 2014 and I just searched “State Of The Union 2014 Rebuttal” and immediately 576,000 results came up. That is bullshit. This is the exact reason why the State Of The Union needs to retire. The GOP already had a rebuttal ready BEFORE THE SPEECH WAS MADE. It goes to show the state of the State Of The Union that the opposing party already has a response to the President’s words that haven’t even been made yet.

Everything is predictable. Credit it to the 24/7 news cycle, social media, the President’s frequent appearance and the subsequent coverage that ensues, but the State Of The Union needs to go. It’s become a watered down event that has lost it’s allure. It also doesn’t help that the country is more polarized now than ever. Regardless, the President’s speech will be hyper-analyzed for a few days and then everyone will forget about it because Justin Bieber will get another DUI or Richard Sherman will be awesome again and people will be scared of a strong Black athlete.

I think the State Of The Union needs to go. It’s cool to see all of our politicians in the same room and the political atmosphere of the broadcast is neat as well. This feel good aspect isn’t enough to overcome the fact that the President can make an appearance on the Today Show next week and say the exact same thing and illicit the exact same response. It’s becoming a never ending cycle and I really don’t see a point in highlighting one evening as the “MANDATE FROM OUR PRESIDENT!” Obama has always been a good speaker and it is a joy to watch him talk, but the fact is his speech will do nothing to change most peoples attitudes in the long run nor the operations of Congress.

It’s a cool thing to see the President address America in a very official setting, but the actual message of his words gets lost and does nothing beside reaffirm or go against peoples attitudes. The consistent coverage and analysis of the President’s and other politicians statements has made these individual appearances lose their allure. It’s a shame, but with the constant media coverage, not something that’s unexpected. Now Twitter on the other hand offers a positive experience in my opinion. More people are able to converse publicly about the event and when conversation happens, progress is made. Something to keep in mind for future State Of The Union Addresses.

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Train Blogging: Back In The Game

This journal entry is for my grandfather whom has urged me time and time again in the past few months to begin writing on this blog again. 

It’s been quite some time since I last posted. Enough time for a baby to have been conceived, gone through the pregnancy process, and come out nine months later as a human being. Enough time for the olympic torch to make its way around Great Britain, and for the games themselves to take place.

With this post that all changes. I don’t think of this as a blank slate that is to be filled with my ideas. Instead its a never ending novel whose plot is only connected by the fact that all this writing is of my own.

What’s really the point of this post? All it is thus far is an acknowledgment that I have neglected to write for the past few months.  After all, this blog barely gets any views it seems silly for me to think that anyone outside of my family and friends knew this blog even existed.

Writing is my outlet on observing the world around me.  Unfortunately my aspirations to become a radio journalist have not panned out yet, so at the present this is the only outlet I have to freely express my observations without any outside interference. It’s nkt that I feel too timid to engage people in discussion. It’s often the case that I let my thoughts run in a circuitous manner that makes my diatribes hard to flow at times. 

I think it’s important to keep a journal of your thoughts even if.the subject is as trite as why one should keep a journal.  After all, when the internet is inaccessible and the radio signals fade, written word is mankimd’s only form of communication. Albeit that is somewhat of an ironic statement considering this journal is hosted on the internet. If you have access to a printer, then these words will become timeless.

Sitting on the train right now everyone is in their own world whether they are tuned into their ipod’s or have their nose deep in the newspaper. The reason why I often blog while on the train is for that exact reason. I choose to express myself and become involved with the world around me through written word.

Then again the downfall of typing this on my phone OS that I give the appearance to everyone on the train that I’ve been typing a text message for the past twenty minutes. Guess you can’t win them all.

Train Blogging: Clearing the Smoke

One of my duties at work is to load and unload the company van with materials needed for events and broadcasts.  A couple of months ago, the building I work in mandated that anyone loading items into a van or truck must do so by way of the loading dock instead of using the main garage.  In order to access the loading dock you must use a special elevator that is hidden away from the main ones.

In this elevator there is a giant red sign with engraved white font reading “No Smoking.”  In the main elevator there is a fancy video screen offering the news and weather of the day.  When I was using the loading dock elevator the other day I had a thought arise.  If I was a smoker, would my first instinct be to light up a cigarette the second I entered a small and confined space.  At the same time, would I be able to smoke an entire cigarette fast enough before getting off at the tenth floor?

It’s understandable that in public places like bars, parks, and movie theaters there would be no smoking signs. I’ve seen them in enough odd places like classrooms and office kitchens to wonder whether or not a smoker’s first thought when entering a new space is,”is it cool to light one up in here?”  I don’t have the best perspective on this since I am not a smoker, but I would imagine that even though they might be craving one, smoker’s alike have other things to worry about that wanting to light up a cigarette in a loading dock elevator wouldn’t be the first thing on their mind.

Them again I don’t smoke so I could be completely wrong.  To me it seems silly that someone would feel overly disappointed that the can’t have a cigarette in a small, confined area.  Theze signs give off the impression that smokers are eagerly lurking for places to smoke and as soon as they see one of those big red signs, they shrug their shoulders and say “awww shucks!”

Next time your in an elevator, see if you can smoke in there and challenge yourself to finish a cigarette before you get off the elevator.

Dealing with the Devil Himself: Maximum Security Prisons

There was an interesting article I read this morning via the Chicago Sun Times bringing forth a problem that is not necessarily new in the relationship politics and prisons share, but a rather new point of view that often gets pushed to the side. To simplify the issue, what’s at stake here is what role solitary confinement should play in maximum security prisons and how does the legal and societal systems determine the ethics in assigning someone to reside in these conditions (you can read the article here.)

America has a difficult enough time dealing with two-sided issues, this issue has so many prominent parameters that if we mapped it out on a pie chart it would look more clustered than Lake Shore Drive in the evening rush. One of the major problems in this scenario is that this isn’t your generic prison where a prisoner gets sent to solitary confinement for a few days because of misbehavior. This is a maximum security prison housing inmates whose crimes make Jerry Sandusky’s actions look mild. I won’t get into the details of their crimes because it will make your stomach sick with disgust but if you want to read about them follow the link I posted above.

The dilemma involved here is not the scope of the crimes committed by felons nor their actions while imprisoned, the multi-faceted problem here highlights a struggle between how we define basic human rights, economics, politics, and the role of isolating heinous criminals from society.

The Sun Times article aims to stir up feelings of empathy between the reader and the ex-inmate. It strikes one on an individual level and makes them imagine what it would be like to be removed from any social interaction in a confined area for 23 hours a day with nothing to do but re write every bible verse and converse with spiders. At the same time the article highlights potential mental disabilities that were caused by this extended period of confinement. These prisoners are not housed in solitary confinement for a few days, they are locked in there for years.

Surely my ACLU side here is gleaming with accusations of denial of human rights and essentially forced development of depression and other mental illnesses. Allow myself to disagree with myself. This is where the pie chart comes into play. I have no alternative solution, but how else do you deal with child rapists and murderers that extend their immoral and inhumane actions onto prison where they incite violence towards prison guards or rape prison psychologists? These people have committed actions that no matter how regretful they are for them, are still labeled as the lowest of the low.

I think the overarching question here is how do you deal with that? If there was a cut and dry answer this discussion wouldn’t be occurring. This isn’t taking into account that it costs the government an average of over $64,000 a year just to maintain these prisoners. If Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed shutdown of Tamms becomes a reality, the Sun Times article estimates that the state would be saving around $26 million per year.

See how this spider web keeps getting more tangled by the minute? It really is a sticky scenario that I have a hard time taking any firm stance on. One State Senator was quoted as saying that people don’t end up at Tamms unless their actions justify it. This isn’t the Cook County jail where you’ll end up for holding up a 7-11. This is an institution where the “worst of the worst” end up. Institutions like this must exist, however the manner in which they detain these types of individuals must be questioned.

These inmates are clearly not suited to be anywhere near society let alone an over populated prison. Is locking them up by themselves for 23 hours a day the solution though? I don’t think so and although I have not seen evidence that backs up the claim extended periods of isolation cause mental disturbances, on the surface it appears as some validity exists towards this argument. It is going to cost the state a pretty penny to maintain prisoners regardless of whether they are in a maximum security prison or in the Cook County Penitentiary. As a tax payer, I would feel much safer if I knew my money was going towards keeping the “worst of the worst” as far removed from society as possible. If the state wants to save money, then stop locking up individuals for petty crimes that are not harming society. I would feel much more secure if I knew a serial killer was locked up with no feasible way to even give them the chance of being near my city than a guy who was caught with a few grams of pot on his way home.

There has to be a more efficient mechanism for dealing with this problem and identifying it is the first step. I don’t know if one types of inmates locked up for long periods in solitary confinement will exactly benefit from that time and come out a better person. If there are extensive problems accosted to these inmates from this time, the way the penal system deals with them needs to be assessed. At the same time, it needs to be done so in a manner that will ensure they will never pose a threat to anyone whether they be another inmate or a prison official.

Quite a sticky situation huh?

Train Blogging: Life on the Rails

A CTA Car, Where Dreams Happen

I have to clear two things up before getting into the magic of riding the L train. First of all I’m not writing this on the train so loyal followers of my Train Blogging series will see a more polished and clean cut article. Second of all, I blog a lot about public transportation. To get a better feel of where my attitudes lie regarding public transportation guidelines read this post.

Today’s installment of the Tran Blogging series surrounds the thought-processes that go through my mind while riding the train and what I perceive (just or unjust) to be going through the minds of my fellow passengers. In the recent weeks I have been reading a fantastic biography of Albert Einstein written by the famous Walter Isaacson. Einstein himself has a life interesting enough to fulfill the next month’s worth of blog posts. The book is also part of the reason why I have not made a Train Blogging post in quite some time.

Oddly enough I find the rickety clanking noise of the train to be the most comforting environment to read in. While reading the Einstein book I find it humorous that I am able to completely tune out the outside world and become completely encapsulated with this book. I have to give Isaacson much credit for that because his writing style is so clear and imaginative that it is difficult to put the book down. This also speaks on greater volumes about what the period of riding the CTA represents in my day.

My time spent on the train is a period where I’m left alone with my thoughts. This is really one of the only period of time during the day that I can experience this. I don’t want to give off the misconception that I am completely entailed in work and activity the entire day, but as I’m sure you can agree with there aren’t many moments during the day when you can just sit back and think. Reading the Einstein book is definitely intellectually stimulating and I find myself setting the book down at times to try and comprehend what his thought process is like (disclaimer: this is often a useless tactic as trying to understand Einstein’s thought process let alone is physics is seemingly a full time occupation). Point being though that Einstein’s theories and lifestyle often inspires my own thoughts and perceptions regarding different facets of life and the life that he lived.

Even if I spend the train ride listening to music or staring out into the city as we pass through different neighborhoods, I find myself encompassed in thoughts of reflection of the days work, a current issue, philosophy, or why the lady in the black pea coat sitting across from me looks so grumpy. Maybe it’s just her natural facial expression and I am being completely misguided, but that’s the beauty of the CTA. It really stimulates your imagination looking at other passengers on the train and trying to figure out what’s going on with them. Like I said earlier, whether just or unjust it is fun to imagine why someone looks grumpy while the person next to them has a jubilant smile on their face.

While there are many times I get frustrated at the CTA (again read this post to find out why) but I do have to give it credit. It is one of the only times during the day where you can tune the outside world out. I think that’s a healthy thing. It gives you time to recuperate and digest your thoughts. In this world we live in where everything is instant and can be published without much review, it’s good to be able to sit back and take life in. Call it a throwback, but it seems we as a society don’t take much time to sit back and digest information or what’s going on around us. Maybe that’s why some people on the Purple Line Express in the morning look so rushed and frazzled.

Train Blogging: Why Organic Materials Have the Best Marketing Campaigns

I’m sure you’ve all passed by a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wild Oats, or any other grocery store specializing in organic foods. Even if you haven’t seen one chances are your local grocery store is selling products that can be found at organic grocery stores. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but even as recent as 10 years ago I don’t remember a whole foods existing let alone having two of them in a five mile radius of my house.

What gives?

If you look at the ingredient listings on much of their food you’ll find that it’s not going to magically help you shed twenty pounds.  Eating a box of Trader Joe’s delicious cookies “Jo Jo’s” is not that much different than eating a box of Oreo’s. 

However, there’s mantra surrounding organic food that it will make you feel better and more natural. That’s the catch.  In one of the most successful marketing campaigns since Jared’s advocacy of the Subway diet, Whole Foods and other organic grocery stores have seen huge amounts of growth. I’d like to think that these establiahments are examples of good old American capitalism.

I can’t help but think though that in some ways these companies had outside help along the way.  Conspiracy theorists look away because that’s not what this article is about. Instead, let’s take a loom at one of the most powerful forms of media, the documentary film.

Documentaries always are more impactful than feature length films partly because they touch on tangible issues through a personalized lens.  Watching a doumentary is somewhat akin to watching a professor act out a lecture. They’re both incredibly informing and entertaining.

With notably documentaries like, “Supersize Me,” and “Food Inc.” gathering much praise in the past decade, it should come as no surprise then that Whole Foods and friends saw a huge spike in business since the beginning of the millenium. Focusing on the abnormalities and inconsistencies within the food industry, these types of documentaries leave viewers wanting their food to be free of anything that is not natural. Or in other words, organic

That’s the buzz word my friends.  Trader Joe’s and Co. were able to take the image of organic natural food and run with it.  By slightly raising your prices over other grocery stores and branding your products as natural and healthy, you’re able to leave the consumer with the impression that they are making the smarter decision.

Whether organic grocery stores intended to develop this image is one thing, but it is hard to deny that their success didn’t benefit from outside sources.

Train Blogging: Political Propaganda of the Past

The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University just finished up a three and a half month exhibit called, “Views and Re-Views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons.”  Although I did not get a chance to view the gallery myself, I have seen a plethora of advertisements for it and likely a good chunk of the exhibit. The posters and cartoons themselves are all in Russian so I can’t understand a single word they are saying. By viewing the pictures though, you can infer pretty well the message the poster is trying to send.

To a Westerner, more specifically a generation x’er and older, it paints a familiar picture of the old Communist state of the Soviet Union.  As an individual born at the tail end of the Cold War, I find the posters and cartoons to be quite funny. Every time I look at them I imagine funny caption bubbles.

Not growing up during the Cold War and being immersed in the paranoia of Communism works as an advantage and disadvantage to me. There’s an all too common notion amongst us that with the benefit of hindsight, we would all act in a different manner.  It is safe to say that this is the case when it comes to Western views of the USSR. That entire situation stemmed more from a military stand point than a political one.  I think the US saw the expansion of Soviet Russia and their ever increasing military presence around the globe as more dangerous than the idea that Communism was going to politically enslave people.

With the recent death of Kim Jong Il, the question of how Communism is viewed in the modern day seems to have answered itself. People do not seem to feel threatened by it anymore. Outside of North Korea, Kim Jong Il was viewed as a heinous dictator brutally abusing his authority. At the same time though, there was little fanfare surrounding his death in comparison to other villains like Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.

Communism simply does not have the same fear attached to it that it did even as recently as 20 years ago. Imagine what the public reaction would have been like had the United States successfully assassinated Fidel Castro in the 1960’s.  I reckon it would have put the Osama celebrations to shame.

What used to arouse feelings of fear and danger have now been replaces by curiosity. What exactly was it about Soviet political posters and cartoons that instilled a curious sensation instead of an apprehensive one?  I believe it is an understanding of the institution of Communism that allows us to remove the fear of it and actually study it and even view its propaganda from an artistic point of view.  It makes me wonder whether we will see a similar exhibit 20 years from now surrounding the portrayal of Islam as a political entity.

In theory it seems backwards that we fear something and then try to understand it without bias. At the same time though it makes perfect sense. When an issue or idea seems threatening to us, our initial reaction is not to try and understand it. Most of the time we raise our guards and create defense mechanisms against it.  Out of this grows misconceptions of what the threat actually is and often times ideas are confused with actualities. 

It isn’t until we look back at the situation until we can truly assess why it progressed the way it did. With Communism it wasn’t so much that the system itself led to a severe denial of human rights and poor living conditions. It is more that the system lends itself to authoritarian type figures who will establish methods to ensure a long interrupted reign of power.

Does this mean humans are inherently prone to oppression? Maybe, it does mean though that we have a tendency to be defensive against the unknown as opposed to studying it and understanding it. Usually it takes a long period of time before we can truly look at an issue through a non-biased point of view.

Unfortunately this leaves society stuck between a rock and a hard place.