Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lopez Lomong: A Symbolic Hero or a Political Puppet Used


As you watched the XXIX Olympiad’s Opening Ceremonies last night, if you didn’t know beforehand who was going to be the United States flag bearer in the “Walk of Nations”, you do now.

It wasn’t LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. It wasn’t Michael Phelps or Jenny Finch. It wasn’t Tyson Gay or Alison Felix, nor was it Misty May-Treanor or Kerri Walsh.

It was Lopepe Lopez Lomong, a “Lost Boy of Sudan.”

The third place finisher at the Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters, a race where it seemed that the pressure may have gotten to him to fulfill an unbelievable story at the time already unbelievable (and it is and will be forever unbelievable whether he didn’t qualify for this Olympics, or the one in London four years from now, or any other one). It seemed he had made his move a little too early on the last lap, and he was not as strong as Bernard Legat, another African distance runner running for the United States now, in that race. But he still finished third.

And with that, on 8-8-08, Lomong’s full story was at the world’s ears. Here, a 23 year old that was taken away from his family while he was six years old during a Catholic mass by government soldiers, blindfolded in a truck, then escaping to a Kenyan refugee camp for 10 years, becoming part of the Lost Boys of their country(ies)’s war , adopted by the upstate New York couple of Rob and Barb Rogers, was the paradigm of the 600 plus athletes representing America.

“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Lomong.

His life’s anecdote is more than a great Hollywood movie. It is an utter inspiration that just isn’t common. Everyone should be happy about him, and they should be happy about him being given this wonderful honor.

If only things were that easy. And sadly, they are not.

Because while we felicitate at Lomong’s amazing journey from horror revealed to hope fulfilled, it is hard not to look at the other side of the spectrum. That alarming other side that may have played just as much, and if not more, of a factor in Lomong’s being the flag bearer for America than his own, individual tale.

It has been reported that the captains of the U.S. sport teams voted for Lomong to be the flag waver. I definitely believe that was the case.

But seriously, I find it hard to believe that they knew Lomong before they ever touched ground in Beijing, let alone them knowing Lomong’s story by themselves compared to getting it from a second hand source. Sadly, I think the case of them being influenced by higher ups to choose this incredible person (not forced, but influenced like lobbyists on Capital Hill do) because he was originally from the Sudan is the main reason why.

Lomong, though Sudanese, is from a small town in South Sudan. The ugliness in Darfur is in West Sudan. You look at the geography.

Lomong fled Sudan at age 6. The genocide in Darfur has been reported to start in 2003.

Lomong has never voiced out vociferously in public one bit about what has happened in Sudan, and definitely not on television. Not like Bryant and James have done in the last year before they somehow have not wanted to talk about it anymore.

It is alarmingly painful to say that Lopez Lomong’s story looks like it wasn’t the only factor in him being voted to hold the American flag at the Olympic stadium. He was part of the bigger picture.

Since no athlete is going to come close to talking about Tibet, the only ways the American Olympians and the USOC will talk about anything political that could make them uncomfortable are through subliminal message like gas masks for pollution and now, sadly this story. There is no need to even get into some of the athlete’s naive hypocrisy they showed (or you would hope it was na├»ve, or it is another case where nationalism overrides rationalism) as their country, well, you saw how Bush was not warmly welcomed.

It would be one thing if they had a passion about Darfur like Joey Cheek, the visa stripped activist does. But they don’t. And if they did, would they be over there now?

Instead, just alone, the reasoning for Lomong selected as the flag bearer for America highlights how politics can eviscerate any pure good out of a situation. Imagined if Lomong didn’t qualify in the 1500 meters, didn’t out perform a disappointing Alan Webb and a surging William Leer for third place on the final day of the trials. Who would have been the flag waver then?

The USOC knew what was going on here, and they knew what the possible story lines that would follow. It was a win-win for them of course; Lomong’s story highlights the greatness of America while they make a political statement simultaneously. Only that the second win really shouldn’t be a win at all. It’s dishonest and shameful. He should have been the flag bearer just on his own merit.

But they aren’t going to say that because you will know how fraudulent they are. They’re not stupid.

Lopepe Lopez Lomong is a man (young man for some of you, not for me since I’m younger) whose story will never be tarnished. But the selection and choice to be America’s flag bearer maybe is so.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Poignant Birthday Wish


On his 47th birthday yesterday, Barack Obama gave his most important, pivotal speech ever.

More so than his lauded 2004 Democratic convention speech, more so than his Iowa monologue on the third day of January this year, more so than his speech on race relations during the Rev. Wright controversy, more so than him accepting his party’s nomination in the incipient stages of June, and more so than his speech two weeks ago in Berlin.

Lansing, Michigan, the hone of Michigan State University, was the site of the Illinois Senator greatest conversation to an audience in attendance.

From the outside perspective, and from the narrative delivered by the traditional media outlets in the country (looking more for the excoriating soundbite on John McCain to paint Obama’s as practicing negative policies as the one who spews “hilarious” ads in unfunny times ), this speech was about his full energy policy for this country. But from a deeper conspicuous stand point, his comments in the capital of the Keystone state were ones directed fully to an entire nation extremely vulnerable to the difficulties and challenges this county is currently facing, and may continue to face. Especially this poignant one:

“For the sake of our security, our economy, our jobs and our planet, the age of oil must end in our time.”

It is a request, and a plea, for those from the 48 state mainland, in Hawaii and especially in the near arctic shores of Juneau. A plea where you don’t need to understand even the slightest bit of economics to know how serious the statement was from the presumptive nominee of a party, looking to push energy conservation that differs from the constant rhetoric of offshore drilling.

A stringent viewpoint that needed to even be slightly made flexible by Obama, who sees people are hurting at the pump just like he sees people hurting with their houses being taken way, their jobs being lost, and their belief in the American Dream severely tested. He is cognizant of the fact that he had to show something for those who still don’t understand that (or don’t want to understand) McCain, George Bush, and the House Republicans’ theatrical performances for drilling on the nation’s shores won’t alleviate the price at the pump in the slightest bit.

With that showing of concern to even put himself through the incongruous and idiotic label of him “changing or altering his views” or “flip-flopping” (a word the media loves to use quicker than they ever do to admit a mistake) on this, Obama however asked deep questions on his 47th birthday to us; to make the choice that could changed this country’s future forever. And for the better.

“Will we be the generation that leaves our children a planet in decline, or a world that is clean, and safe, and thriving? Will we allow ourselves to be held hostage to the whims of tyrants and dictators who control the world’s oil wells?”

“Or will we control our own energy and our own destiny?”

It is a message that won’t struggle to resonate if people understand fully how high the stakes are. If they get through the heavy hits of truth Obama delivered to the petroleum conglomerates and labeled McCain as an oil craven just like Bush, they’ll see the even bigger picture. And frankly, if you look right at the campaign team and staff of the so called “Maverick”, he surly isn’t a maverick when it comes to the 29 oil lobbyists part of his squad, isn’t he? If they get though the “analysis” of the speech from some network pundits who repeat each others talking points like they are PR people one after another, highlighting just his differences with McCain then doing their jobs and seeing who’s telling the truth and whose being “a politician.”

If they get though those things and a few more, they will clearly see and remember the sense of urgency not only Obama showed on the day where his 48th year on Earth started, but also in the current times upon us. If the former Harvard Law Review president had to convince you that “This is why this election is the most important of your lives,” then please, convince yourself now to do so. And if there is anyone that you know that hasn’t been swayed in the least bit, try your best to sway them.

Obama yesterday featured a tone that amalgamated optimistic realness with a sense of deep desire for those to wake up and see how critical it is to make the right choice now. He told us that the road was not going to be easy if he was elected president, at all. He told us that things aren’t peachy and creamy, and that when he is president, the road is going to still be a bumpy ride. In short, he gave you the “straight talk” that the Straight Talk Express can’t give you.

But he was the total obverse of pessimism at the same time, putting his trust in the nation and believing that the turn around back to economic prominence can happen if people are willing to join along in the sacrifice for our country’s amelioration. And oh, being knowledgeable and informed citizens, something we have lacked in this country for a countless number of years.

If it takes you until November 4th to choose who is your choice to lead us from the disasters of this administration, then so be it. But by then, the reasons for the right choice should be so exponential that you wouldn’t be able to raise it to another power (and that will certainly hold strong for those who liked or hated algebra).

And one of them definitely should be a real, true, and pre-energy policy, even if you aren’t well versed in that discussion as in other areas.

“When it comes to our economy, our security, and the very future of our planet, the choices we make in November and over the next few years will shape the next decade, if not the century. And central to all of these major challenges is the question of what we will do about our addiction to foreign oil.”

It is a topic worth full supplication to not only the oil companies’ practices, but also to yourself. This isn’t a request of you dumping the car you have now and be mandated to get an electrical powered car or to ride a bicycle more (because I certainly can’t ride a bike myself anymore), or you becoming fully an environmentally first individual. Senator Obama didn’t say that, and neither do I. It is a request though to acknowledge and realize what is real and what is true, that this country is painfully addicted to “Texas tea” (fitting that is where our current president is from), and its addiction can be more pestilent to us than ever before if we don’t control it.

We will wage unjust wars for it like we are doing now. We will let speculators overseas play us as greedy fools by telling us what price is best for their barrels of fuel, like these barrels are the soccer players priced at ridiculously high levels of currency and soled for those same figures. Or that those barrels are valued as high as Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s asking price for the pictures of their two kids. We will let gas prices go up even more and prevent most families from even thinking about trips (because we are already at the stage where some can’t go them). Or have Greyhound raise the price of bus tickets by five to 10% to trips slated for New York City, or Boston, or Washington D.C., or wherever your heart yearns for. It may alarmingly get to a point where oil becomes more valuable to us than food.

Scary and crazy as the last sentence is, with the way things are going at the moment, only the imaginatively challenged will take any scenario off the table. But the New York Times best seller doesn’t see it the upcoming years that way, thankfully.

“Well that’s not the future I see for America. I will not pretend the goals I laid out today aren’t ambitious. They are. I will not pretend we can achieve them without cost, or without sacrifice, or without the contribution of almost every American citizen. But I will say that these goals are possible.”

Those goals, an increase in renewable energy and not giving sweat heart deals to the ExxonMobil’s of the world, are what was technically requested. But on his 47th birthday, Barack Obama wished for something more than those two valuable things. He requested that we, if we haven’t already, understand that our future is in own hands. And that we must make the choice, and care deeply about the consequences of that choice.

Take pride in that choice, because you never know if you’re going to have that choice again.