Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Better Than Kryptonite (Daily Northwestern 11/21/08)

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? This question has plagued me my entire life. On the playground, kids used to ask this, and I'd immediately say X-ray vision. The application of this power is obvious: the ability to see through women's clothing. I cannot, however, imagine a single heroic use of X-ray vision. 

After a few years I upgraded my desired power to invisibility, again for the explicit purpose of seeing women naked, one of two recurring themes in my life. Nobody said superheroes needed to be noble.

But fate works in mysterious ways. There was that question, years later, as I applied to college. I lied, and not for the first time on the application. I chose a new power and claimed it had no voyeuristic intentions. I chose the ability to control time.

What a poignant choice that was, as I find myself almost four years later with an unshakable desire to go back in time and do college again. Not because I enjoyed it, mind you, but because I did not. I sucked at it.

This is the last column I will probably write on campus, and it's sadly not about superheroes, nor is it about how Northwestern failed me. Rather, it's about how I failed at Northwestern.

I've made countless mistakes while here. With the exception of this column and maybe that one time I brined and baked a turkey, I have done little worthy of admiration. I skip classes and then fail them or drop them. I join organizations and then abandon them. I have had no less than five majors and settled on the worst. I cannot say with a straight face that interdisciplinary studies is a legit major.

If this sounds like you and you're like me, I sincerely ask you not to be. Maybe it's hard to imagine underachievers on a campus full of overachievers. You always hear about the success stories. But then there are those kids who, for whatever reason, find themselves listless as they watch their friends run the show. Kids who are haunted, and have always been, by the word "potential." Potential is the other recurring theme in my life, specifically the squandering of it.

A million little things have contributed to my failure here, but one stands out: When I arrived on campus, I was sure I'd be that superhero. The first time I failed, however, I gave up. I helped with a student film, and when I screwed it up, I thought, "Never mind, not film." When I was rejected from writing programs, I thought, "Never mind, not writing." Whenever I failed at anything I loved, I thought, "Never mind, not that." Today, I don't even risk failure. I avoid opportunity altogether.

It is this fear of defeat that has silenced any hopes of success. Fortunately, I can fake triumph and talent with amazing aplomb. I also laugh it off, calling these four years a comedy of errors. "Angels fly because they take themselves lightly," they say. Maybe that's true, but now I've turned my college career into a joke that's only kind of OK to laugh at.

I'll leave NU having learned one thing: My superpower shouldn't have been X-ray vision, invisibility or time control. It should have been the ability to fail. Nobody said superheroes needed to be noble, but I think that'd be a very noble superpower.

Little Robot That Could (Daily Northwestern 11/14/08)

Last week, we lost an American hero. He was an explorer, a scientist and even a cowboy. He braved a furious frontier, and he died out there. Today we remember the noble life of a Mars lander named Phoenix.

To be sure, he was but a robot. Mars, however, has never met a soul more human. He stood on the shoulders of giants - Lewis and Clark, Galileo, R2-D2 - so that he could reach out and touch the sky. Now he rests among the stars, in the frozen tundra near the northern pole of Mars. Sarah Palin must envy his view.

NASA named him after the mythical bird because he contained parts and instruments recycled from previous projects. Quite literally, he rose from the ashes of those who died before him. He began his journey on Aug. 4, 2007. Almost a year later, on May 25, he landed in an area called Green Valley near Mars' north pole.

Projected to last no more than three months, Phoenix persevered for far longer. During his Martian exploration, he made several groundbreaking discoveries. His most famous was the presence of liquid water beneath Mars' surface. This simple finding has restored hope for life on Mars and renewed Will Smith's dream of saving the world from certain extraterrestrial destruction.

The little robot also made several discoveries whose relationship to Will Smith is tenuous and thus less interesting. Still, we should note them here: We now know Mars' soil is alkaline, although I do not know what that means. Phoenix also provided scientists with a daily diary of Martian weather, which is by and large cold. It appears there is also no hurricane activity on Mars. Now we never have to ask Kanye if George Bush cares about space people.

According to NASA, this weather is what brought about Phoenix's demise. Martian winters are not just cold but also dark. Sadly, Phoenix was solar-powered. All the more tragic, he will not reboot when the sun returns. Our robotic hero will not recover from the permafrost. His antennae will tremble and motor will slow as a long, long winter buries him. We can only hope that NASA will send another robot to Mars who can discover him, repair him and become his best friend. Like Wall-E, Phoenix has earned his Eve.

Little Phoenix leaves behind a legacy too big to fit into NASA's archives. That legacy is simply discovery. He is a monument to what pulled cavemen out of the tunnels, over the mountains, across the oceans and up into space. Our quixotic explorer would not want us to lose sight of that.

Throughout his journey, Phoenix beamed darling binary messages back home along with his data. NASA kindly turned the ones and zeros into words and posted them on Twitter, adding blogger to Phoenix's pedigree. I remember fondly an early one: "It's all full of stars."

Yet Phoenix will hardly be considered just another blogger who died alone. Instead, his final words perfectly capture how we should remember him: "01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3."

("Triumph <3").

Holograms and History (Daily Northwestern 11/7/08)

It's over. Just as I started writing this column, North Carolina was called for Obama. A little tardy to the party, but it's the thought that counts. Now I can do something I've wanted to do for a while: Call him President-elect Barack Obama.

But it's over, and that's a hard thing to say. I now have nothing to do. It's not just that my column will officially have no point next week, because it certainly won't. I'll have to start writing about how silly the squirrels are on campus or what's wrong with the Keg. I literally have nothing to do now. I can't go home, turn my TV on, turn my brain off and absorb tired political talking points. 

Who will make me sad now that Keith Olbermann is happy? Who will make me feel un-American now that Joe the Plumber has perished from the earth? Who will make me laugh now that Sarah Palin has gone home? In her own special way, that woman could brighten anyone's day. Now I can see the end of her political career from my house, and it's a tad tragic. Tina Fey and Nailin' Palin won't suffice.

So it's over. What happens now? All we can do is try to guess what kind of dog the first family will get. My money's on a pit bull.

It's hard to make sense of what just happened. For the first time in years, Americans asked for change and didn't have to follow it with "maybe on your way out?"

But I think we've forgotten something: We don't have to wait for change anymore. We never did. It's here. We've changed already. There's no way an African-American could ascend to the highest office in the land if change hadn't already begun weeks, months and years ago.

No, Obama hasn't brought us change. Obama has simply shown us how we've changed. I saw a great picture a couple of months ago: an old white man in Dixieland holding a sign with the Confederate flag painted on it. And you know what that sign said? "Rednecks for Obama." 

And I saw another historical moment on CNN Tuesday night: not just a black president, but Anderson Cooper speaking to a freakin' hologram version of If you had told me 10 years ago we'd have a black president today, maybe I'd buy it. But if you had told me we'd have hologram versions of mediocre rappers talking about presidential politics, I'd have told you to shut up and get back in your DeLorean. 

Now, not everything will be sunshine and roses. What will John Stewart and Colbert do now? What will cynics, such as myself, say about a nation and a world riding a wave of optimism? What will MSNBC and FOX News do? Become the new versions of the old each other? And what will happen to the pent-up political passion that has inspired our generation? I fear the day when Urban Outfitters will sell Obama T-shirts as vintage clothing, relics of another day.

Yes, my friends, it's over. Line up on the field and shake the other team's hands. It was a good game. There's only one more thing to say: What's next?

The Fat Lady Sang (Daily Northwestern 10/31/08

[Okay, this column kinda sucks. Again, what a stupid headline.]

A weird thing happened Wednesday night: I got a taste of what it's like to hear from the president and look forward to it. That's new for me and for most kids my age.

As you may have seen, Obama ran a glimmering, half-hour Hallmark special about himself on Wednesday. Surprisingly, given the hokey, almost masturbatory concept, it was good. With the help of Davis Guggenheim, who directed "An Inconvenient Truth," Obama created something reminiscent of FDR's fireside chats. It was intimate, informative and downright American. It didn't mention John McCain even once. I imagine if McCain produced a similar ad, he would do the same - not mention himself even once.

The ad reminded me of the kind of vision and eloquence that drove Ronald Reagan's success. Say what you will about his policies, Reagan created the image of the president that we imagine today. He spoke with measured tones in a very visual language, assuaging our fears and guiding our hopes. He had great respect for those who came before him and even for the desk at which he sat. He promised always to wear a suit in the Oval Office.

Sadly, I was far too young to remember any of this. But I hear, mostly from the parents of my friends, that they - Democrats and Republicans alike - looked forward to an address from Reagan.

I can of course remember all the presidents since Reagan. I remember George H. W. Bush's presidency, but I think of it in terms of Dana Carvey's impersonation of him. And while Bill Clinton was swell, he lacked the gravitas Reagan and Obama possess. Whenever I imagine Clinton, I see him wearing a baggy sweatshirt with BBQ sauce stains dribbled down the front of it. And what else can be said about George W. Bush?

And now we may elect another president who brings dignity, gravitas and class with him. Obama strikes me as the kind of guy who will always wear a suit in the Oval Office.

The ad also revealed why Obama's campaign has been called one of the most effective in history. Everything in the ad was perfectly calculated and coded. The first time we see Obama, he's standing at a room that looks an awful lot like the Oval Office. The stories about the average, American families all came from swing states. We heard about two white families, a black family and a Hispanic family. Yes, this was a grand depiction of America, but we can't forget that it was a politically convenient America. 

Even Obama's interview on the Daily Show that same night demonstrated the Obama campaign's attention to detail. At first glance, it appeared Obama was sitting in a library, the shelves lined with hefty, leather-bound books. But if you look closely, you can tell it was just a photograph of a library. Yes, Obama's as great as they say, but let's not forget the political artifice and handiwork that floated him even higher.

Above all else, the ad marks the end of two long years of constant campaigning. The critically acclaimed Obama Show has finally ended with this last half-hour. Here's hoping the spin-off is worth watching for the next four years.

Reppin' da NU Repubs (Daily Northwestern 10/24/08)

[What a ridiculous headline.]

Talk about a slow news week. I guess some crazy Congresswitch from Minnesota called for an exposé on anti-American senators and congressmen. The McCarthyism continued when a McCain spokeswoman referred to the "real" Virginia. And then Palin referred to the "pro-America" part of the country, because the rest of us in liberal lala-land all pal around with terrorists while using the American flag as kindling for our crack pipes. Oh, and then she spent $150,000 on a redneck shopping spree.

Here's the problem: The amateur, embarrassing antics of the GOP campaign isn't even news anymore. I've achieved a Zen-like disregard for it, just as I have for President Bush.

But something caught my eye yesterday. I picked up the Daily hoping for some inspiration and instead found this thing called the Weekly. I read a fantastic article by Jennifer Chen about outed Republicans on campus.

They are, as Chen notes, few and far between. Let me be the first to say that it is refreshing to meet a Republican on campus. In some respects, there is a "real" America, and NU is far from it. So spotting a Republican in the wild is exhilarating. Frankly, they tend to know way more about politics and the basis of their beliefs than their liberal counterparts. This is part of being in the minority. Where most Democrats can go all day without talking to a Republican, and thus never having to defend themselves, Republicans constantly need to justify their beliefs. This makes them sharper, more articulate and more prepared to debate. This, of course, leaves many NU Democrats as articulate as Kanye West, and that's coming from the world's biggest Ye fan.

I remember one night in my fraternity when I met a Republican. We had invited girls over, because we are men, and that is what men are wont to do. After working up the nerve to talk to one, I proceeded to get spanked for supporting Obama, and in the least sexual way possible. She called my stance on torture na've and girly! She called my pro-choice position appalling and backwards! She called me a "West Wing" boy living in a "24" world! 

And it was all, quite frankly, hot. She ran rhetorical circles around me. Now, granted, I was hammered, had lost my shirt and was wearing a beer bong on my head, so perhaps her treatment of me was a little cruel and unusual. Nevertheless, I had a great time talking to her. I wish I remembered her name.

So here's the call to action at the end of my column that the rest of my colleagues do: Democrats, support the Republicans at NU, the rare Republicans who seek a college education. Their numbers are few, and they are brave. With few numbers comes little funding from the school. This unfairly stifles conversation, so - I never thought I'd say this - please start attending College Republican meetings with me. Everybody knows conservatives are hotter anyway. Just ask VPILF.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

So much for great debates (Daily Northwestern 10/10/08)

I clearly need to apologize. I promised to write about the best moments in this endless presidential campaign. That was youthful na'veté. I'm pretty optimistic for a cynic, but there have been no best moments. There have been few good moments. There have been, by and large, only bad moments and worse moments. Maybe next week will be better, but this past week was the worst.

We got a heartbreaking debate, one so boring that Politico hailed it as the worst debate of all time. The campaigns promised us a shootout with .357 magnums, but the boys showed up with slingshots. Given the state of things right now, with two ongoing wars and a financial crisis, we deserve a debate more sophisticated than watching Dennis the Menace and Wilson bicker. The impish, wandering McCain gave us the "that one!" moment. Some have called it racially charged. I do not think it was. It was just bizarre and creepy. Obama, on the other hand, gave us no moments; he simply sat there looking more bored than Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, the rest of the world entered fiscal cardiac arrest. Loves it.

We saw the McCain campaign vomit a new wave of desperate, negative attacks. They have again attempted to turn Obama's middle name Hussein into an epithet. They have rattled on for days about his tenuous connections to Bill Ayers. They have slyly mentioned Obama receiving donations from abroad - as if McCain hasn't. They have allowed threats - calls for Obama's life - from their audiences go unanswered, "condemning" them only after the fact. These are the dots they want us to connect, and the many lines will spell "danger." Given the magnitude of this moment in history, these attacks sound not just small but insulting.

And we saw Obama do very little for fear of looking like the "angry black man," as Ben Stein called him. When the other team nearly accuses you of treason, you do not need to sound measured. You hit McCain harder on corruption involving the 1989 Keating Five scandal, not just with an online documentary nobody will watch. You list the names of every lobbyist working for McCain. You recount every nasty Chelsea Clinton and "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" joke that compromises not only his judgment but also his decency. You nail him on only knowing one thing about money: Yes, sometimes earmarks are silly. Then you call him on trying to spin all of this into his baseless maverick image. And when you're done and you've won, you render him obsolete, a tired relic, a has-been hero who will be remembered only for discovering FOX News's most successful anchor - Sarah Palin.

Maybe he shouldn't do all of this. Obviously he should leave it to his surrogates and spokesmen. McCain is too far beneath him right now. But I can't be the only one who wants to see Obama himself reach down there and turn the lights out. This is getting old.