For the Week of June 14, 2004
One advantage of living in Atlanta is that, during my Sunday bike rides, I sometimes get to visit with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Road weary after free-wheeling past the Airport, the parks or (as in this case) the southern reaches of Cobb County, I sit by the reflecting pool, avoiding the frames of Japanese tourists' cameras and, inhaling the chlorine, commune with the good Doctor.
I never met Dr. King in life. I grew up in a segregated suburb and in the 60s my mom referred to him as "Dr. Coon." But, as a young reporter I did meet his father, known by then as "Daddy King."
Martin Luther King Sr. led a small congregation through the worst of segregation. The second rising of the Klan, beginning with the trial of Dr. Leo Frank, happened in his youth, and it spread across the nation. President Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia, and practiced law in Atlanta before going north. He called D.W. Griffith's 1915 racist epic "Birth of a Nation" , about the first Klan, a great piece of celluloid, and the opinion was widely-held. Throughout the teens, into the early 20s, white rednecks rioted and burned black communities, often on the flimsiest of excuses. Lynchings were common. No one in power dared object.
Instead, black communities grew tighter. Most of Atlanta's black wealth was in the hands of Alonzo Herndon, born a slave in 1858. He started his fortune with a whites-only barber shop, then went into burial insurance, and founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Co., which anchored the west end of Auburn Ave. To the east rose the other side of wealth, the great churches. There was Big Bethel AME and Wheat Street Baptist. Ebenezer Baptist was the smaller, brick structure up the road.
In his prime Atlanta's white power structure called King Sr. "Mike" King (some may have thought of his son as "Mikey"). He got his pulpit through his father-in-law, A.D. Williams, and had three children. Martin Jr. was the middle child. Whites depended on King as a voice for moderation. When someone was lynched, when people were routinely denied their rights, when the community was seething, Mike King was one of of those called on to be a cooler head prevailing. This helped give Atlanta its post-war reputation as "the city too busy to hate."
What King got for his forbearance was a middle class lifestyle that, in the context of his time, place and community, was in fact an upper class life. His fine old home (which also came from his wife's family) is just a block east of the church and available for tours . It's twice as large as my own home, near the top of a hill, with high-ceilinged rooms that stay cool even on hot summer days.
The King family was well-off, it was respected, the father was a leader. Martin Jr. would go to Morehouse College, like his father, then into the family business. But if he walked just a few blocks from that fine old home he was nothing, "another young nigger." Look someone in the eye, at the wrong time, and he too might become a statistic.
It was this contradiction, between his upper class heritage and his underclass treatment, that became the central theme of King Jr.'s life. In his first assignment, in Montgomery, he was late signing onto protests against the racist bus system. He waited for the perfect cause, for Rosa Parks , he kept his goals modest. And he won.
No one had ever won before. It was a modest win, he wasn't one of the hotheads, but inside he burned with the same fire they did. And so it went, through the rest of his life. Political caution won him great victories, and made his voice a symbol of righteousness before he spoke. Then, when he spoke, he used the gifts learned from his father, used them expertly, and the walls came tumbling down.
For a time. The later Dr. King, the Dr. King of the anti-war movement, the Dr. King of the Poor People's March, the Dr. King of the Memphis garbage strike, that Dr. King isn't heard, even today, even on his holiday. It's the older King, the cautious King, the son of his father, who is heard, because he's "safe," he's harmless, and he's buried in the vault on the reflecting pool.
So, Dr. King asks me, how far do any of us get, really, from where we start? The secret to success lies in staying within yourself, staying true to yourself, staying in your "comfort zone" as we bike riders say. Go out too fast and you'll bonk, go too far and your legs will turn to jelly, go too hard on a hot, humid day and even the reflecting pool may not slow your breathing. Dr. King says his daddy was a great man. I agree with him.
So it was that I thanked the Doctor, and called my wife, and had her pick me up from the road. Your Clue is that you do what you can. Go too far from your comfort zone and you are bound to fail. Success is relative.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am presently searching for opportunities.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
The Good News In Oppression
David Wallis of Featurewell.com has one of those hand-wringing attacks on press oppression I find so tiresome.
He's writing about Baylor University, which has not only censored dissent on gay marriage, but has told the affected journalists, through alumni, that their job is to shut up and always write only what the bosses tell them to.
To which I say, hurrah.
It's not that I like oppression. I don't. But without oppression you have nothing to fight, and may well take freedom for granted. With oppression, on the other hand, there is that frisson of excitement over even baby steps, and the creation of an underground civitas that can really get something done.
Look at Iran. Sure the Mullahs are in charge, but it's the only country in the world where the people are pro-American. Chinese surfers appreciate every piece of freedom they can steal.
And in my own life I saw just what happened when the jackboots come down on a school newspaper. It happened in my hometown of Massapequa, in 1970. We wound up with, not one, but two underground papers, and wound up training, not one, but several professional journalists in the process.
It would be sad if the Baylor journalists took the lesson the authorities wanted them to. I suspect the idiots among them will do just that, and the profession is well-rid of them. I just doubt that will happen to all of them, just as gay Catholics aren't going to stop agitating because their church condemns them.
We all have opportunities to be heroes, right in front of us, if we would only seize them. Baylor's journalism majors have such an opportunity. They can't stop you from putting up a Web site, on a private ISP, and they can't stop you from distributing news of that Web site around the campus. (And if you're scared, kids, use pseudonyms, or have a local activist front for you.) They also can't stop you from selling ads on that site, based on your audience's market power, and learning the business of Web journalism.
What are you people waiting for?
Google: Threat or Menace?
Just as conservatives still blame Clinton for everything, four years later, so it is that there are people in the journalism profession ready to blame the Web for everything they do wrong.
Google makes a nice target. Business publications are worried that Google's AdWords can target their readers better than they can, and thus steal money they think should be going into their pockets by right.
Well, bushwah. Google didn't kill the consumer magazine business. That business has simply failed to adapt, and readers have as a result given their attention instead to cable TV and web content. Clever publishers would have taken this as a challenge to change their business models, to deliver better Web content themselves, and better data on the market. But a stroll through the ocean of most publishers' souls will scarcely get your feet wet.
The same is true, only doubly, in the business press. I've worked in the business magazine field for most of my career. These people are morons. So Google AdWords will steal their money, and many will go out of business.
Good riddance. If a computer program can do your job better than you can, join me on the unemployment line. (And the piece of cardboard closest to the steamer grate is mine, by the way. Get your own.)
Another False Dawn For The Networked Home
Samsung and Sony are getting excited over the networked home.
It's going to be another false dawn, as anyone can see reading this recent article on the subject from Wake Forest's Babcock School of Business. The current thinking has more holes in it than the hit movie.
Both Far Eastern companies are looking at wired technologies, and expect systems to add $2,000 to $10,000 to a new home's sales price.
That trick has never worked.
The networked home will look more like my own 83 year-old structure. It will be networked without wires. It will be networked at my pace, through individual applications of my choice.
The networked home will be based on demand-pull, not on vendor-push.
Rather than worry about enabling technologies, vendors should be concentrating on finding applications that pay for themselves.
The time has come for home automation vendors to stop dreaming big dreams, and to start dreaming of small applications. It is time to get out of the lab and into the market.
- Save me heating-and-cooling costs, and I can afford an Always-On thermostat.
- Save me on water costs, and I can afford an Always-On garden.
- Save me on food costs, and I will buy an Always-On refrigerator.
- Save my life once, and I'll buy the whole system.
It's past time.
Clued-in is Intel CEO Craig Barrett . He's asking the right questions. Will he get the right answers?
Clueless is Sun's echo of Microsoft's latest meme, "hardware is free." . Hardware isn't free, it's subsidized.
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