Where Are Our American Heroes?

Published in the North Central Chronicle on October 26, 2007.

The Declaration of Independence. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Wright brothers. The fall of the Berlin Wall. These are great pieces of our nation’s history.  They represent the importance of American freedom, ingenuity, and strength.

Slavery. The treatment of Native Americans. The atomic bomb. Vietnam. Watergate. These are shameful chapters of American history that we continually try to forget.

And now, in our post-9/11 world, the shame seems to keep piling up. Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, Alberto Gonzales, a weak Congress and an absurd president—none of these things seem worth fighting for.

Now, flashback 40 years. Our parents had the unique opportunity to live through the most turbulent and revolutionary times in our country’s recent history. They saw an America on the brink of disaster fight through great injustices, assassinations, radical racism, and an unwinnable war. But they also lived to see one of our country’s greatest political figures: John F. Kennedy.

JFK met many obstacles; some he overcame, some got the best of him. But regardless of his politics or his personal life, JFK led. Arguably, one of the most consequential and defining choice he ever made was to lead this country into the Final Frontier and get a man on the Moon.

It’s hard to put into context now, but at the time this idea was Earth-shattering (pun intended). NASA had already been conducting space missions for a few years, but the Moon was still a long way off. After the Russians launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth, and effectively pulled ahead of the United States in the “Space Race,” President Kennedy had to convince the country to get to the Moon. And after a string of humiliating moral defeats, America was ready for a victory.

Eight years and billions of dollars later, we made it. A human walked on the Moon. Just think about that for a second. It’s incredible. Anyone over 40 will tell you exactly what it was like to witness Neil Armstrong step foot on the face of an uncharted, untamed celestial force of nature. Even Walter Cronkite, the most stoic and professional news anchor ever, could not contain his astonishment and joy at such an incredible feat.

But the greatest thing about the Apollo 11 moon landing was not that America was the country to do it, it was that America shared that epic achievement with the whole world. It wasn’t an American that landed on the moon; it was a human being. Like Armstrong famously said: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Mankind did it together, with America leading the way. That was the sentiment that the whole world shared.

Now, decades later, instead of banding together with our fellow man and setting the example for peace and freedom, we’ve alienated most of the world with our unilateral policies, our government has failed time after time to be honest with us, and we’ve abandoned all the moral authority we earned in the past. So who can we look to now? Who among us can take us back in the right direction?

We cannot rely on another event like the moon landing to inspire the world to co-exist peacefully. Life is too precious to be left in apathetic hands. But if another 9/11 comes along, when the world joins together, if only for a moment, we’ve got to seize that moment to do some good. We’ve got to raise the bar high, like we did with the Marshall Plan after World War II and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We’re nearing another fork in the road as we approach the 2008 election and turn the page on a tumultuous and unstable episode of history. The biggest issue I’m judging the candidates on is their sensibility and devotion to the restoration of true American dignity and leadership. So far, I’ve yet to be impressed by any candidate. Again, who will lead us into the abyss that lay before us?

Where are the George Washingtons, the Lewis & Clarks, and the Rosa Parkses of this generation? Is there no one to help clean up cities destroyed by hurricanes, to stop genocide, to eliminate hunger? I’m searching for someone or something to believe in, someone that unites rather than divides and actively pursues truth instead of obscures it. Does such a person exist?

I’m looking for the heroes, the pioneers, the events that will capture the heart of our nation and inspire true patriotism. Not patriotism limited to American flag lapel pins and bumper sticker slogans, but patriotism that is shown through action and truth rather than empty words and partisan bickering. It may be a lofty goal, but this is America, the Land of Opportunity; let’s take the opportunity set before us to become great again.

Taxi Driver

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on October 19, 2007, as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

In this edition of “Chad Picks Classic Flicks,” I’m skipping over the 1960s in favor of tackling the wide array of great movies in the 1970s. I will return to the decade of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll eventually, but for now, we’re traveling to a time when VHS and Betamax were waging a format war, when Johnny Carson was “King of Late Night”, and when the Internet was something only engineers cared about. So grab your bellbottoms, throw on your favorite ABBA album, and prepare to get funky—film style.

Beginning with the release of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, and ending with the release of One for the Heart in 1982, American film was largely defined by low-budget, realist, sometimes exploitative films made by young, independent filmmakers. This era is dubbed “New Hollywood” because it threw away the standards of the old studio system and completely changed the way movies were made and marketed.

New Hollywood films were groundbreaking in their technique and style, but most notably for the themes they addressed. Anti-establishment and disaffected youth were common subjects. Sexual angst and heightened realism were pervasive. There are many noteworthy New Hollywood films that share these traits, but none stand out as much as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).

Set in post-Vietnam Era New York City, Taxi Driver follows lonely insomniac taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) through his isolated and desperate life driving through the dirty streets and fantasizing about laying waste to lowlifes and criminals. He spots Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a blonde overwrought campaign aide to a presidential hopeful, and successfully woos her into a date.

But Bickle, who apparently has not been on too many dates, brings Betsy to a sleazy porno film, and she quickly leaves in disgust. Travis feels rejected and confused, and so begins his slow descent into delusion and despair.

The deep-seated anger Travis has suppressed begins to emerge as he becomes more withdrawn from the world he loathes so much. He buys a few handguns and, in a very famous scene, talks to himself as he flashes his gun in front of a mirror: “You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here,” he says. He becomes the only person in his life, and soon his deluded mind takes over, creating a whole new Travis; a ruthless and desperate assassin.

Travis then unexpectedly meets a 12-year-old prostitute (played by a very young Jodie Foster), and takes it upon himself to save her from her pimp and from a life on the streets. The problem is that she doesn’t necessarily want to be saved, and Bickle’s problem is that he can’t accept that. He has a mission in his mind, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t go for glory trying to save the girl and win Betsy back.

If you haven’t gathered it already, Taxi Driver deals with a seriously disturbed character. He’s a racist, homophobic, confrontational hermit and has illusions of grandeur. He tries to become a hero but doesn’t realize that he’s doing everything wrong in the process.

Yet equally as mesmerizing as the film’s central character is its style. The unorthodox cinematography brings out the grittiness and nuances of the streets, and the dialogue flows well while maintaining depth and insight. The taut supporting cast offers a hearty taste of authenticity with a dash of humanity, which serves as a stunning contrast to the perceived inhumanity in Bickle.

Taxi Driver was the film that pushed both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro into the limelight. It won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and a slew of Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture. It’s my favorite Scorsese film, not only for the reasons explained, but for the film’s residual effects. It made me think long after it ended, and I give major props to films that can do that.

This weekend, consider escaping the autumn chills by watching Taxi Driver in the caged swelter of your dorm room. It’s not the greatest date movie, however, so don’t cuddle up with your significant other expecting a romantic segue into a make out session; it’s a brutally honest film that delves deep into a mad mind. If that’s not your cup of tea, just skip right to the make out session.

Rear Window

Published in the North Central Chronicle on October 5, 2007, as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

Today we’re going to visit the 1950s, a time when television shows delivered the least objectionable content, when the president of the United States was roundly respected, and when rock stars needed only to shake their pelvises to cause massive public outrage. Indeed, in this time of traditionalism emerged a film that dared to talk in taboos and confront the peeping tom in all of us. This film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

James Stewart, the “Everyman” of American cinema, plays L.B. Jeffries, a maverick freelance photojournalist who becomes bedridden after being on the receiving end of a racetrack collision. His cast-bound life is boring, and so far as he can tell, so are the lives of the neighbors with which he shares an apartment complex. Curiosity gets the best of Jeffries, as he begins to discreetly examine the personal lives of his fellow tenants with the zoom lens on his camera.

Jeffries’ peeping seems innocuous at first, but when he begins to suspect a murder has taken place in an apartment across the yard, his innocent spy games turn into a full-fledged investigation. He enlists his longtime girlfriend, high-class fashion designer Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella to help him solve his homespun whodunit, but all take umbrage with Jeffries’ perceived voyeurism.

Their indignations only last for so long. Soon both women are immersed in the mystery and they too become peeping toms, powerless to their desire to make other people’s business their own. From there it doesn’t take long for the team’s sleuthing to lead to danger. Their suspicions soon become known to the suspected killer, and the race is on for Jeffries to solve the murder or become a part of it.

A subtle, yet defining quality of Rear Window is how the potential of Jeffries and Fremont’s relationship is seen through the relationships of Jeffries’ neighbors. There is the frustrated bachelor musician; a possible outcome for Jeffries if he fails to tie the knot with Lisa. There is a sociable yet single dancer who has to fight off frequent marriage proposals; a possibility for Lisa if she leaves Jeffries. Then there is the boring, domesticated married couple; a possibility for both of them. Jeffries takes these possible futures, pairs it with his fear of commitment, and makes it difficult for Lisa to convince him to settle down for good.

Another thing I love about Rear Window is that it doesn’t necessarily show us what we want to see when we want to see it. Even as clues are revealed and Jeffries tries to rally support of his theory, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. We don’t see any bodies, there are no death threats, and our amateur sleuth hero might just be out of his mind. But this apparent inactivity is one of the film’s greatest triumphs. It’s like boiler pot: the steam builds ever so slowly until the tension becomes so overwhelming and it finally explodes.

Hitchcock was infamous for loving to use his films to make his audiences squirm. Mind you, not how Saw makes you squirm with disembowelments and decapitations, but rather with mind games and psychological trickery. He made the characters with which we identified and related consistently do the wrong thing, effectively tricking us into thinking or believing something we never imagined a decent person could think.

There are many other Hitchcock films I would recommend: Psycho, Notorious, and The Birds are all worthy of mention. But Rear Window is one of my all-time favorite films because remains wholly effective throughout despite having no soundtrack or significant action. It is as delightful as it is disturbing, as maniacal as it is moving. There are many films that intrigue, scare, and make you think, but none as brilliantly and successfully as Rear Window.

McCarty Follows Uncommon Path

Published in the North Central Chronicle on September 28, 2007.

How does one lead an uncommon life? History shows that the greatest leaders are those who rise to the challenge of leading an uncommon life, a life unafraid of what comes next. Esther McCarty is one of those people.

Esther McCarty (’09) was born in Baguio City, Philippines. Her parents founded schools in the Philippines and in nearby Burma to teach music and Bible knowledge hand-in-hand with their humanitarian services. Esther attended an international school while learning Tagalog, the Filipino language. It didn’t take her too long to assimilate.

“I thought of myself as a Filipino.”

The McCarty family lived in the city but traveled extensively to rural areas to conduct medical missions in the north. The Filipino culture was moderately westernized, though facilities like showers had yet to develop beyond their indigenous design.

Esther was fond of living in the city, but she found true solace and beauty elsewhere. Esther vividly remembers a class trip into the Cordilliera Mountains to visit rice terraces that had long ago been hand-carved into the mountains for farming purposes.

“I find peace when I’m in the mountains,” she says. “They are so exquisite and majestic.”

The McCarty family returned to the United States for two years after Esther’s brother Jon was in a near-fatal motorbike accident. After his recovery, Esther’s father informed her that the family would be moving to Thailand. The move shocked her at first, but after living in Thailand for four years, Esther knew she had found her home.

“Thailand was more oriental, exotic, and mysterious than the Philippines. I feel that those years in Thailand were the most formative for me. I now feel more Thai than anything else.”

It was a twist of fate that brought Esther to North Central. She recalls getting a “crazy 80s-style promotional video from North Central College” from her dad during senior year of high school. The video itself didn’t win her over, though it was altogether humorous; it was the financial aid package that sealed the deal. Esther hadn’t as much as visited campus when she decided to come to North Central.

Like many first-year students, Esther got heavily involved in campus activities. During her first year alone, she was on the Hall Council for the New Student Complex, the finance committee in the student government, the Chronicle staff, and the tennis team. On top of that, she worked three jobs at once: in the Admissions office, at the Corner Bakery, and at Bangkok Village, where she still works today.

“I wanted to try everything,” she says.

But, like many first-year students, she burned out quickly. She quit two of her three jobs and her life eventually settled down. She is now an RA in Townhomes and a board member of the Uncommon Life Movement and Breakaway, student organizations that organize service trips nationwide.

Esther projects a strong spirit that is not concerned with what comes next, only with how she can help. She is never without a smile and a nice thing to say, and it is evident that Esther has found her stride in service.

“God created me to serve. I feel most happy when I’m helping people, and know people are my passion.”

An uncommon life, indeed.

Murdoch Expands His Mega Media Empire

Published in the North Central Chronicle on September 14, 2007.

First published in 1889, the Wall Street Journal has won countless Pulitzer Prizes and worldwide acclaim for its quality reporting and editorials. It also was the first news outlet to report Enron’s financial disaster, as well as the Sept. 11 attacks. So what lies ahead for such a highly regarded and successful newspaper?

Rupert Murdoch buys it.

That’s right. The same man who owns American Idol, Fox News Channel and MySpace now owns one of the most prestigious names in U.S. news – possibly the world. The average citizen, however, may see nothing wrong with this. After all, we live in a capitalist society. Aren’t businesses allowed to grow?

In fact, the buyout of the Wall Street Journal illustrates the very thing that’s wrong with our capitalist society and our democracy. We’re much more interested in making a buck than preserving our sacred constitutional rights. But hey, if one man can afford to own dozens of newspapers, cable channels, magazines, a film studio and two publishing companies, what’s the sense in stopping him from buying more? Why even fight it?

What most people fail to grasp is that when media businesses merge, a voice in the media is lost. Pretty soon, when most mainstream media outlets are owned by just a few corporations as they are now, there are few remaining independent, credible voices left. This is when our basic right to information starts to diminish.

We all have a right to truth from the media. James Madison, Founding Father and architect of the U.S. Constitution, said that “a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

Essentially, we need a free press. In order for this country to survive this crazy thing we call politics, we need to know what’s going on. Fox News and CNN, the two highest rated and well-known cable news outlets, can’t tell you whole truths because their bosses depend on an uninformed public that is not willing to step up and force change.

But here is the truth: The only thing stopping this country from becoming an even greater nation is the people itself. We are apathetic, unaware and unwilling to force our media and our country to serve the basic rights of its citizens, rather than the greed of its stockholders.

Democracy and capitalism can work well together – so long as they keep each other in check. Our democracy may be the most bragged about democracy in the world, but that doesn’t make it the best. Right now, our capitalism is beating the hell out of our democracy. And Murdoch’s latest move is just kicking democracy while it’s down.

The Wall Street Journal buyout should be a wake up call to all Americans who love their country. We can’t see the truth about the Iraq War, global warming, the 2008 Presidential election or concentrated ownership in the media if the media moguls are consistently pulling the wool over our eyes. Do yourself a favor and open your eyes and see for yourself.

On The Record

I want to go on the record about something.

In the last few years, fans of the television show LOST have debated back and forth the mysterious — solved and unsolved — of the island and its inhabitants. Some say the writers have left way too many things unanswered for too long. They see that as a sign of sloppiness and apathy towards the feelings of the fans.

We as a collective sit through week after week of polar bears, smoke monsters, hatches, the Dharma Initiative, the numbers, etc., if only to learn something new that makes sense of something old.

Eventually, people get sick of waiting week after week, then months at a time, for just morsels of information. They say in frustration, “I’m never watching that show again! There are too many mysteries left unsolved! %##&^!!!!”

Well, I’ve never been one of those people. As soon as I became an official LOST fan, I was in it ’til the end. Even after a lackluster second season, a weak 6-episode arc beginning the third season, and a 9-month break between season, I sit here as excited about the show as I was when I watched the pilot episode.

Some of you doubters will say, now that LOST is awesome again, “Well, I never really doubted it.” Bull. I read thread after thread on Lost Facebook pages and AIM conversations of the same, tired laments. I got so sick of hearing people whine and moan about the show that I just stopped listening.

I’ve never whined about a thing on that show. Never.

Of course, after every episode I would excitedly chat with friends and family about what the @#$^ had just happened, and get each other excited about what would happen next week. And that whole time, no matter how lame others said Lost was getting, I loved it. Every freaking episode.

I think it’s because I know I’m watching something historic. (Historic in terms of television.) LOST made a huge splash it its premiere — literally. I didn’t start watching it until after the first season, on DVD. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked. Anyone who watches it is. You just can’t stop watching it.

Now, since we know that they have a firm end date to the show, I know that LOST will be even greater. This is not one of those I-knew-it-all-along things. I’ve always had to try to convince the doubting Losties I know that no matter how they felt about the latest episode, they had to appreciate the show itself. Look at it from a wider perspective. Because from there, it’s quite beautiful.

So go on, doubters. Complain that there are just more mysteries to solve and not enough time to solve them. Go ahead. It’s your loss. While you sit at your computer and bitch about the Others, I will be happily absorbed in a great show.  I just wanted to make sure that you know I’m in it no matter what.

I don’t care which characters they kill off, how lame the latest twist is, what is behind the Dharma Initiative, or how much of a rip-off the grand finale might be. I just don’t care. LOST is just too good a show to diminish.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, watch the two-hour season 4 premiere tonight,  8/7c on ABC. It’s back, LOST fans. And it’s going to be awesome.

Rachel & TK All The Way

At least one of my favorite teams won on Sunday. I totally called it before the season began. They looked like they would get along and have fun along the way, which they did.

Although, this was the first season in a while where I wouldn’t have minded if any of the top 3 teams won. Ron & Christina finally fell into a positive dynamic, and Nicolas & Don seemed to always have fun together. I give them all props.

There was no preview for the next season; I’m guessing because they don’t have it ready yet. But I’m pumped already.

Congrats TK & Rachel!

Dear Packers Fans…

We had a fantastic year. It did not end so fantastically, but nobody could have predicted how well we did with such a young, inexperienced team led by a grizzled veteran quarterback who may or may not have had his best years pass him by.

Sure, we shot ourselves in the foot with those penalties, missed third-down conversions, blown coverage, and failure to convert turnovers into big points; but we fought all the way to overtime, where anything can happen. We as Packers fans should know that much:

The Seahawks a couple of years ago and Denver earlier this year; we came out on the victor’s side of overtime. The “4th and 26” Philadelphia game and tonight; we simply came out on the wrong end. That’s how the game is played.

Regardless, I enjoyed the ride. 13 wins and 3 losses. It’s an incredible feat, no matter if another team will probably go undefeated. We gave the country something to talk about. They remembered why the Packers are such a esteemed organization and great ball club.

The Cowboys have been branded “America’s Team,” but we all know who the rightful team team of that label is. It’s the only team that is owned by thousands of individuals, rather than one person or a wealthy family, in all of professional sports. It’s the only team that has won more NFL Championships and Super Bowls than any other football club. It’s the only team with more Hall-of-Famers than any other team.

It’s the Green Bay Packers, and tonight they fought a good fight, and lost. So it goes.

The phrase, “next year is our year” is normally reserved for Cubs and Red Sox fans, but I think we can reclaim it. But it’s not a phrase we utter in vain desperation for it to come true; I think next year is our year. History shows that teams who lose their conference championship come roaring back the next year, assuming all of their pieces are intact. We did it after the 1995 conference championship loss to Dallas – I think we can do it now.

Of course, “assuming all of our pieces are intact” refers primarily to Brett Favre. I’m not naive. I know that we would not be where we are if not for the Iron Man with the Golden Arm.

But I think he’s coming back next year. He came so close. His year to quit would have been last year, with the tears and the closing horizon of his viability in a younger man’s profession. He said himself that this was the most talented group of players with which he’s ever played – he wouldn’t simply walk away from it. He’s too good. Too fun. Too needed.

We Packers fans know loss. After our victorious Super Bowl year, things went downhill. We lost the next Super Bowl (a hurt too deep for tears), then went 8-8. It was then a quick ascension into playoff-caliber play with Mike Sherman, then he too led us down an ugly slope.Now, Mike McCarthy has taken the reigns and steered us back into relevance. Thank goodness.

Winning so many games this year seemed strange. We were used to losing a few more due to Favre’s interceptions stupid mistakes and last-second botches. It all seemed a little too easy. We were racking up too many points; winning by too much; seeing Favre play too well.

Well, now that the dream had faded and we’re grounded back in our now-empty lives, we must accept the loss with dignity and resilience – as we always do. We’ll come back stronger, more experienced, and with a vendetta.

We’re coming back full throttle, ready to beat the Giants and the Patriots and the Bears.

So, good luck Eli and the Giants. Brady and the Pats are the team to beat, and I think most of America, sans Patriots fans, are hoping for an upset. It would certainly help Eli’s respectability.

Here’s to a great year, Cheeseheads. Let’s hold our heads high and remind ourselves how blessed we are to be a part of such a historic and talented team, and that we have a good quarterback.

Be grateful for that. The Bears have never been as fortunate. (And let’s hope it stays that way.)

We’re witnessing history with every Favre pass, touchdown, interception, and win we see.

Remember that, and enjoy the ride. I most certainly am.

Always and forever a Packer fan,

CHAD

A Loathsome List

I linked to a list of the Most Loathsome People in 2007 in an earlier post, but I want to repost a part from that list because it’s so freaking true. Check out the rest of the list for a gut-shot of truth.

The Founding Fathers

Charges: Lionized as moral pillars and demigods ad nauseam without the slightest hint of irony. Can’t be judged by today’s tandards. Electoral College? Dumb f*cking idea. Invoked by every a*shole in the last two hundred years to support every stupid idea ever. The original liberal elite. Able to withstand lightning strikes and the British military; unable to fathom poor people voting.

Exhibit A: Owned wigs, Africans.

Sentence: Depicted as cartoons on rapidly devaluing currency; beaten at effective democracy by former monarchies.

You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism — it’s nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears’ children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you’re going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can’t spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don’t want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy’s doing well. You’re an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn’t get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn’t cover. You deserve it, chump.