Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 2009: It Began with an Air Bath

January 19: There was a television mini-series I watched some many years ago. It was about the American Revolution. It might have even been about Benjamin Franklin, as the only parts I remember about this mini-series were about him. In fact, I only remember one part. This would be that Ben Franklin took an air bath daily. In the mini-series, he would stand naked in front of an open window letting the air bath and cleanse his body and soul.

Of course, I Googled “Ben Franklin air bath” and found many sites confirming the air bath story. A site dedicated to Franklin’s 300th birthday, www.benfranklin300.org, seemed the most official:
Did you know that Franklin was so sure that fresh air was important for good health that he took a daily “air bath”? He wrote to the French physician, Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, describing it thus: “I rise early almost every morning and sit in my chamber, without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing.”
Not quite the visual impact of standing in front of an open window but definitely making Ben Franklin somewhat of a nudist.

This air bath idea popped into my head this past weekend and I decided to take my version, a fully clad version, of an air bath. Like Franklin, I believe fresh air is important to ones health. My belief is that really cold air cleanses the soul and gives provides a unique kind of solitude and clarity.

As Chicagoland and much of the Eastern US have experienced extreme cold temperatures, I got it in my mind to take a walk in the cold and refresh myself. At first, I thought to walk the neighborhood. A second and much better thought was to drive across town to the Lake Forest beach on Lake Michigan.

So I donned my boots, two layers of coats, the warmest gloves I could find, an anorak, and a hat. I drove down to the beach and walked. It was cold, the landscape was covered with more than a foot of snow, the sky was pure blue, the sun provided bright light and little warmth, and the wind was blowing… perfect conditions for my version of a wind bath.

I really should have done this last week when the temperature never got above -3 degrees Fahrenheit. While the temperature today was a balmy 14 degrees by comparison, it would suit my needs just fine.

There are two piers that define the boat launch. The mooring area was further cordoned off with jetties made of large rocks. I walked out to the edge of each of piers and looked out over the choppy water of the lake. It reminded me of being at Compo Beach in Westport, CT but without the salt air.

It felt great, all bundled up, no one around, the biting cold, and looking out over the lake. I like a view now and then when there I can see no evidence of humanity or any of our alterations to the landscape. Looking over the lake provided just that. Ice had formed on the jetty rocks, freezing in layers that made rings that looked like those on a tree trunk.

It was enjoying this moment when my thoughts drifted to the air baths of Benjamin Franklin. I laughed at the conceptual similarity and the glaring differences in our approaches. I have to assume, just because of his stature in history that he had it right. Though I must admit that I really enjoyed my version very much.

Thinking of Ben Franklin next had me reflecting on the history of the United States. I noted I was doing this on Martin Luther King Day and the day before Barack Hussein Obama was to be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States.

I then realized that January 19th was also the second anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink (read my April 2007 letter). I stood there in the cold and a thought popped into my head: Hrant Dink is like the M.L. King of Turkey. When the country and the government honor him as such, maybe an Armenian or half-Armenian might be elected as the President or Prime Minister of Turkey.

January 20: It is Inauguration Day. I was up and out early. I went to a networking breakfast in Downtown Chicago sponsored jointly by the University of Michigan and Michigan State University Alumni Clubs. About fifty people came, partook of a surprisingly lavish breakfast buffet, and then participated in a rapid fire table to table networking session for an hour or so. About two-thirds of the participants were looking for a job or in-transition. I met some very nice people but no one that could probably help me.

When the session was over I had to drive to Oak Brook were I was meeting another fellow, Aravind, for yet another networking discussion over lunch. We decided to meet halfway between where I live and he works. We decided on the India House Restaurant in Oak Brook which ironically was right next to the Sanford offices.

As I drove there, I was listening to NPR coverage of the inauguration. If I were at home or almost anyplace else, I would have probably watched the historic event on television. Call me odd, but I enjoyed listening to the prayers, musical offerings, oaths, and acceptance speech on the radio. I listened to the commentators paint a picture of the surroundings and it fired a different image into my memory than watching it on television would have done. I probably heard the words of the prayers and acceptance speech more intently.

It still amazes me that we have an African American President. I thought when he announced his candidacy that he did not stand any chance of being elected. I thought the prejudice was too deep. Clearly, I was wrong. In the end, I even voted for him. What surprised me was not so much voting across some racial or prejudicial lines (I like to believe there are no lines in my head or heart to cross), but crossing the party line. I have voted Republican for President every year with the exception of voting for Ross Perot in 1992. Yes, that means I voted for W not once… but twice.

January 24th: I have an acquaintance here in Chicago. He is an attorney with an Ivy League undergraduate degree and his JD from the University of Chicago Law School. He told me that Barak Obama was his professor of Constitutional Law. He told me that “flat out Barak Obama is the smartest person I have ever met.”

Maybe it is in contrast to Bush, Cheney and their team. There is some buzz about the return of the best and brightest to government service. There is a feeling or buzz around that with the election of the Barak Obama that it is OK again for the best and brightest to consider a career in government service.

Of course, the best and brightest sword is two sided. John F. Kennedy brought in the best and brightest including McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara. This group of the best and brightest got us into the Vietnam War. When the best and brightest do not go into government, my theory is that they go into investment banking and finance at the highest levels. If this has been the case for the past ten years, then I have to add another word. This group of the best and brightest is also the greediest and engineered us into the worst recession/depression since the 1930s.

Frank Rich wrote an Op-Ed piece in the December 8, 2008 New York Times, “The Brightest are always not the Best” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/opinion/07rich.html. It is worth reading, but be warned it could take the winds out of whatever optimism you are feeling after the inauguration. I do not recall reading that piece when it was published, but I must have since my views track too well with the first few paragraphs of his column.

There is at least another way to look at this. If the socio-economic conditions of this country are cyclic, we have to be near the bottom of the cycle. We have a new team coming in and taking over in a crisis. They are focused mostly on the elements of this crisis: the two wars, the banking system, real estate, and unemployment (gee whiz… did I miss anything). Part of me thinks that they will have to do better, things will have to improve. When you are standing on the South Pole any step you take will be northward.

To me, the country has the same feel as when Ronald Reagan was elected. People wanted him and his team to succeed. The economy was a mess and the Iranian Hostage Crisis had zapped our collective national will. Reagan swept in dawning an age of prosperity and military build-up that ended up bankrupting and causing the fall of the Soviet Union.

What are we expecting? What do we need from the Obama administration?

January 27th: It has been a week since the memorable inauguration. Yet, nothing has changed. I have not found employment yet. The recovery has not fully kicked in. Every turn of the TV News Channels, click to a news website, or turn on the old fashioned newspaper reports on this company letting 2,000 people go and that company eliminating 4,000 jobs.

Even though I seriously try to avoid reading depressing news, I could not pass up the breaking news today regarding the State of California. It seems that California is seriously considering sending out registered warrants, basically IOUs, in place of state income tax refund checks. The state has not had a positive cash flow since sometime in 2007. This is probably a ploy on the part of the state controller John Chiang to get the legislature and governator to pass enact some sound budget and tax legislation but it is very distressing news in a very distressed time.
“We are the eighth largest economy," Chiang said, speaking of California's rank among the world's nations, were it an independent country. But comparing it to other states, he said, "We have the 50th or we are tied for last in the credit ratings. We are a world economic power, but we have fiscal mismanagement in this state." http://worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=87175
Luckily in Illinois where I live, we have Governor Rod Blagojevich and his ridiculous impeachment defense to take our minds off of the economy.

What are we expecting from the Obama administration? I think that people, the people, in general are expecting things to get better and to get better quickly. That is what I would like too, but it is not what I expect. It took months and years to get into this mess, it will take at least that to get out of it.

I would like to give the country an air bath like I took that I took on the January 19th. I would like to have a blast of cold air clear our collective minds and give ourselves a much more basic view of what our place and stature in this world should be. I would like to clear the cobwebs of excessive consumerism and “irrational exuberance” out of our collective minds.

It would be good if we could take a longer range view of many things such as the environment and global warming. I would like to see us invest in good basic research on how mass transit could really work in this country or at least parts of this country. I would like to see us have a more balanced view of politics in the Middle East and not just siding with Turkey and Israel as a default. I would like to see us pay a bit more for food and use that extra money (did someone say tax?) to ensure the safety of the food supply chain. Of course, I want everyone to think like me.

Personally, I would like to be able to smoke a cigar in more venues then is now allowed. But, I don’t think any kind of mass air bath would help make that happen. I guess I will just have to settle for an economic recovery.

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In closing, I would like to provide this link to photos of the inauguration sent by my friend Asaad Samaan. His message was “Cool stuff regardless of who you voted for.” I couldn’t agree more: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/01/the_inauguration_of_president.html

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