Monday, October 27, 2008

The Change We Need Or The Change We Want?

This presidential election has seen the word “change” used a staggering number of times. The candidates’ slogans are about “Change you can believe in” or “The change you need” or “It’s time for a change.” Barack Obama made “Change you can believe in” the cornerstone of his improbable run to the Democratic Party nomination and likely the Presidency. Much of the time, it seemed like the slogan was used in place of an actual platform. Hillary Clinton was probably exasperated about having to defeat a catchy slogan rather an actual candidate. I understand her angst and why she fought so long for the nomination. It was the Al Gore-like disbelief about losing to a guy with no experience, just a slogan and mainstream popular appeal. The Republican nominee, John McCain, touts his decades-long proclivity for change and reform. He is even saying that the country needs a change from the policies of the current Republican administration and that he is the best one to provide it. It takes some balls to join in the opposing parties’ rote chant to throw out the current bum and put them in there instead. When Obama started to gain momentum, McCain briefly changed his slogans to include the word change also. I also find it amusingly ironic that Obama, the supposed agent of change in this election, is the one to have selected a vice-presidential candidate who is an old white guy with years of service in Congress while the Republican nominee chose a woman. I think the VP debates should have come with identifying subheaders so casual observers could tell which candidate was the Democrat or the Republican. Both presidential candidates are even changing their long-held beliefs in order to be more electable, although with Obama “long held” might not be a precise enough term since he has only been in Congress for two years. McCain is appearing to side with traditional Republican beliefs to win over the party faithful and Obama is ignoring past promises like campaigning in all 50 states and accepting funding from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. That’s why you see his ads everywhere- he is outspending McCain by about four to one and will soon have set the record for most money spent on a political campaign. Selfish, big spending by a politician during an economic downturn? Not quite the kind of change people are expecting but presumably, that will be just an aberration that was necessary to gain the White House.

It seems pretty clear that this presidential campaign is all about change, real and rhetorical. The thing is, what is so great about change? “The change you need” sounds like I’m going to be forced to swallow something unappetizing. I’m more interested in change I want, not change I need. In fact, lately I’ve been sounding a bit like a grumpy old man, grumbling about everything changing and how things used to be. Yes, I would like to see us get out of Iraq and stay out of dangerous military situations but is that change? We weren’t in Iraq 50 years ago. We were just peacefully living in our “Leave It To Beaver” world and trying to avoid tangling with Russia during the Cold War. Then something changed in the 1990’s and 2001 and we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, twice. Do we need to fix the financial markets? Yes we do but things had been going fine until Bill Clinton’s presidency. Then things changed because he aggressively pushed to loosen up the credit requirements for a loan so it got a lot easier to buy a house, even if you couldn’t really afford one. Heck, you could even get a home loan despite not having enough income to adequately meet the mortgage payments and other bills. Now the housing loan market has crashed. This doesn’t sound like what I need. We had a fuel crisis in the 1970’s so people learned to ration and buy fuel efficient cars, then things changed and now our monster SUVs require $4 a gallon gas to fill up with. Was this the change I needed?

It’s not just political situations either. As I’m driving down Gallows Road, I see that the Taco Bell that has been here as long as I’ve lived in the area is now closed. It used to be busy even at midnight and now it is shuttered. So is the gas station across the street, the bank next door and the auto body shop catty-corner to it. Even the Pizza Hut and the 7-11 behind the Taco Bell are gone. You know how I feel about 7-11’s. Closing one is like a funeral for my inner child. It seems like the whole area right around there is closing, like a developer bought everything up and will put in a monstrous high-rise or some retail complex. On the other side of the intersection, there is already a new condo complex so maybe it is going to be bookended? Although, based on what Mike and I saw when we hit the new Chipotle, most of the condos appear to be unoccupied, based on the sterility of their balconies. The Merrifield Multiplex theatre that I always went to on Friday night is a ghost of its’ former self. When I saw the movie Titanic there, it was so crowded we had to park in the back back lot. Not the side lot, or the huge back lot but the overflow lot behind that. Now there aren’t even enough cars to fill the first three rows of the sidelot. I was so worried about them closing that I talked to the manager of the theatre recently to see if that was a possibility. He assured me it wasn’t likely to happen but who knows- things change. Are all my favorite shops about to go away? What’s next? As a kid, my favorite candy bar was the Marathon Bar. Nowadays, I bet no one even knows what that was. (It was two overlapping ribbons of caramel, covered with chocolate.)

The other day I drove by Landmark Plaza and I noticed two things. First, in the last decade two music store chains had come and gone from the strip mall- Tower Records and the Waxie Maxie’s where I worked for my first job after getting out of college. That bummed me out. Second, a Rita’s water ice shop had just opened up. That did not bum me out. In fact, it made my summer because I stopped by numerous times for a gelati (Italian ice with layers of custard) on a hot day. Even on a rainy day’s I’d visit because they had a two-for-one deal if it was raining. Speaking of music, on my way to work yesterday, I was listening to the Fleetwood Mac CD I had bought. It was a remastered version of the self-titled album when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks first joined the band. After an initial listen, I wondered why I was so enraptured with the album when I first got it back in college. When I got to some of the bonus material, I realized why. The bonus cuts were the original versions of the singles from the album. When I listened to those, and flipped back and forth between the remastered versions, I remembered something I had read a little bit ago. There is a trend in music currently to remixed songs at the same time they are being remastered. This is done to “freshen” things up, to change them up. One way to do this is to remix the songs to sound better in a compressed digital format, like when you download songs. Certain elements are emphasized in the new mix or made louder. In this case, it meant that in the song “Over My Head”, the drums were made to be the primary element of the song, not Christine McVie’s vocals or the delicate guitar work by Lindsey Buckingham that had anchored the song originally. In fact, the guitar is almost buried in this version and vocals barely escape the drum onslaught. This happened with almost all the songs on the remastered album. Bet the drum part isn’t what you recall liking about the song Rhiannon. Too bad, because now you will be painful aware of it. I used to think a remastered CD meant a cleaner copy was being made from the master tapes but nowadays, it means the master tapes were used to change and “improve” the original.

My sister got married a few years ago and this year she had a baby- little Brendan who is pictured above. He’s pretty adorable and she’s happy about the whole thing. That was a good change even if it is harder for her to fit into her jeans at the moment. Many people I know have gotten married which is an example of how change can be good. Then they moved away so I don’t see them too often. That’s bad change, at least in my opinion. It probably makes them ecstatic but so far they have been polite enough not to say “Thank God we got away from him!” Some good friends from high school I have never heard from again and some are still in my social circle. I used to live at home and follow my parent’s rules but now I live on my own and make my own rules. I used to earn minimum wage working at the library at school and now I earn a lot more. I got a new-ish car this year, which is a great change but the lock on this car opens in the opposite direction of the lock on my old car- even though they are both made by GM. Don’t they believe in standardization or are they deliberately forcing change upon people?

In an earlier post, I mentioned an example of unwanted change, about how my favorite television shows seem to go away too soon. Another example- Coke is a classic drink but then some executives decided we needed a change so we got New Coke, which luckily caused more changes when Classic Coke was introduced/reintroduced and then it become the only Coke, meaning the newest Coke was the old Coke. What else is going to disappear? When is the last time you saw Rolodexes, lickable stamps, tape decks, record stores, lighters flicked at the end of a concert, standing in line for tickets, Woolworths, Hecht’s, K-Mart, record players, stonewashed jeans, suspenders, rocking chairs, good penmanship, full-service gas stations, everyone at the table ordering dessert, hitchhiking, water beds or analog clocks. I’m not saying that all these things should have stuck around but now there is no choice. I for one loved the idea of self-adhesive stamp but these days, would you risk hitchhiking? Could you find a someone to pump your gas if you had two broken arms? Could you still play your old 45 records if you had the urge? Could you buy the songs digitally instead or are they out of print for good? Can you smoke in a restaurant in DC? Some things are either gone for good or quickly on the way out, for better or for worse. Even the comic strip “For Better Or Worse” has changed. It had been progressing in real time but after 20 or more years, the characters got too old so the cartoonist started over and made them the age they were when the strip first started. Essentially, it was a mulligan, a do-over. That casts the title in an ironic light now. Kind of a metaphor for a lot of things these days. We might say it is for better or worse but we really mean “Until I get tired of it not being mostly on the better side.”

The point of all this ranting and reminiscing is that I don’t like change forced upon me. I want to decide what needs to change. I perfectly understand that it is an issue of control. I don’t like other people deciding on things that affect my life. At the same time, I know that they must be allowed to do what they choose because it is their life, their country or their business being affected. It might make sense for 7-11 to sell of one of their stores to a developer who wants to build a condo complex for people who want to move closer to work even though it means my commute will get more difficult and I won’t be able to get a Slurpee as easily. I know that Steve wanted to get married to Christine and I think that was an excellent decision but it doesn’t mean I’m not sad to see less of them since they moved to Seattle and then Kansas. I’m sure Steve wasn’t happy that his work place changed from a hospital in Seattle to a hospital in Iraq. Mom and Dad bought a new place in a planned community in South Carolina even though it meant moving out of the house they had retired to in North Carolina. Now they are so deluged with social engagements that Mom is giving up her part-time job in order to be a better “socialite”. A major change turned out to be a good thing. The current financial turmoil changed the direction of my investments to a decidedly downward trend line. The invasion of Iraq was quick but the mission still has not been accomplished. The climate is changing worldwide and the polar ice caps are receding very quickly. Soon the seas in the Arctic Circle will be accessible by ship and several nations will be jockeying for sovereignty of the seas and fighting for the oil rights to the vast reserves that had previously been inaccessible. The polar bear might soon have to worry about extinction.

Even if I don’t get to decide everything, even if I have to admit I’m not the center of the universe (and Mom trained me well because she never told me I was) I would like to know what exactly change will mean. Don’t just tell me things are going to change. As I’ve talked about above, change can be good but it can also be bad. It can be New Coke, it can be Iraq, it can be condos, it can be extinction. Tell what will happen, as best as you can project it. Flinging the word around willy-nilly as a campaign slogan is dangerous. Barack Obama is in a position to influence the world. Not just my personal part of it, but the world of everyone I know. Spell it out so even if I can’t control what happens, I can plan for different scenarios. When someone has to power to make changes happen, without any direct input from me, I’m naturally going to be a bit worried. Change can be good or it can be bad. What I want is the change I want. “The change I need” scares me.

1 comment:

Richard Goodman said...

Some more changes since I wrote this post:

Obama was elected President. Not even close to a Reagan-esque landslide but still a very solid victory.

The Merrifield Multiplex Theatre closed this week, with apprently no advance notice. I almost went there Tuesday to see a movie. Good thing I didn't. Now there are no theatres within 5 minutes of my house. I now have a drive of about 10 miles and twenty plus minutes if I want to see a movie in a theatre, which is how I prefer to see them. It's the most enjoyable way.

Circuit City announced the closing of all their 500 + stores. I had long given up on them in favor of Best Buy or online but it is still a shame to see an original innovator go out of business before its' imitators.

At work, our districts are being expanded so our quantity of district managers are therefore being condensed.